Tag Archives: cross culture shock

Home Sweet Home?

When I first got on the plane to get home, I was excited to see my old friends and family again, despite having to say goodbye to everyone I had met in Spain. Yet, when I landed back in the States, I felt like a stranger. I listened to everyone speaking English and it sounded so foreign to me. It lacked that fluid, spicy sound that I’d come to adore hearing from the Spaniards. In the airport, I kept slipping into Spanish and was frustrated when almost no one understood me and kept giving me strange looks. I truly felt like a stranger in my country.

Upon getting home, my dad insisted he make me dinner, consisting of chicken, salad, some beans, and pasta. I remember tasting the salad and laying my head down on the table. My dad was confused at first, but when I explained my feeling, he understood: It wasn’t Spanish salad. It wasn’t the cuisine I was used to. The chicken tasted incredibly greasy to me, and my stomach certainly didn’t like it either. Even now, there are still certain foods I won’t eat, just because I don’t like them much now. Everything is sweeter to me now, as well. Coke tastes so syrupy and strange. It was definitely an experience adjusting back to everything. The eating schedule here in America was odd to me at first as well. I was so used to eating at 9pm for dinner, instead of 5pm. I couldn’t take a siesta (nap) every day anymore; it’s not a scheduled part of daily life here in the States, like it is in Spain. That’s definitely something I miss most. The Spanish used siesta to relax and take a break from the business of work. They see American’s work ethic as formidable, but far too exhausting and stressful, and I can’t help but agree with them now; I think Americans need to relax and learn to slow sometimes, and just enjoy the little things in life.

Presently, I feel like most of the reverse culture shock has subsided, but I know that from now on, I will have a home in Spain. There are things there that I can only experience there, things that I will always miss, and things that give me a reason to return someday.

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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

Embracing the Unexpected

Since the day I started my journey to Kyrgyzstan, unexpected opportunities have become a daily occurrence for me. I can never be completely sure what my days are going to hold or what new people I am going to meet. One of these unexpected opportunities presented itself during my second week in Bishkek. One of our program assistants mentioned that there were many opportunities to teach English if any of us were interested. Two other girls from the program and I told her that we would be interested and she responded later that day with a teaching opportunity for us. A few other people in our program had already started teaching English here, and all of their situations seemed to be teaching one or two small children at their homes once or twice a week. At first, we were under the impression that this was going to be the same kind of deal, but we slowly began to realize that what we were in for was going to be a very different experience.
We got our first clue when we received a call telling us that a taxi was being sent to pick us up. We got into the taxi with no knowledge of our destination and watched the city fly by as our driver maneuvered his way through rush hour traffic (driving in Bishkek is absolutely terrifying by the way, mostly because lanes and general traffic rules don’t seem to exist.) We finally stopped at a building that had the words ENGLISH ZONE emblazoned across the front and climbed out of our taxi. We were greeted by one of the managers and then taken into a room where the owner began to talk to us about our time in Bishkek so far. After a few minutes of small talk, he suddenly became very businesslike. “So you want a job” he said. “Before we go further, I want you guys to tell me about the most influential teacher you’ve had and why they impacted your life so much.” At this point, the three of us realized that we would not be giving one on one lessons to small children while their parents made us snacks, and that we had quite literally stumbled into a legitimate job interview. We scrambled to get into professional mode and somehow managed to get out coherent and decently intelligent responses to his questions. After the impromptu interview, he told us we would have a five-day trial period and explained the premise of English Zone to us.  English Zone is a school that is trying to revolutionize learning. Students are not given lessons on vocab and grammar directly, but learn it through learning other subjects in English. They give presentations on topics, debate controversial issues, watch videos, learn songs, and are just generally immersed in English the whole time they are at English Zone. “Moderator” is also substituted for the word “teacher” because the idea is that the moderator should facilitate discussion and learning more so than teaching information directly. I found these concepts fascinating and on par with my own feelings on education.
We began our trial week that day and observed a class. The next day we showed up for training and our supervisor said “Rachel and Alex you’ll be observing my class. Gabby you have a class in ten minutes that you will be leading.” I’m not going to lie; there was a moment of pure panic where my thoughts went something like “What. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve had no training. I should run…Or play dead… Is it possible to do both?” I managed to clamp down these thoughts however, and shakily walked into my class ten minutes later with a very sparse and haphazard lesson plan. That class was one of the most fun and eye-opening experiences of my life. All of the students were my age or older and were already at a conversational level. They were also hilarious and my nerves disappeared almost immediately. Since that day, I’ve been volunteering there Monday through Friday and loving it.

One of my friends told me once that he thinks that there are people we meet who are like puzzle pieces and that, throughout our lives, these puzzle pieces come together and help shape who we are as a person. For me, the students and the people I work with at English Zone are definitely some of my puzzle pieces. They have not only taught me a lot about Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan, but they have taught me about myself. They ask me questions that make me think and come up with answers to my questions that I have never considered before. They have taught me about an aspect of myself that I didn’t really know existed and helped me discover that I am passionate about helping people learn. They have told me about their dreams and ambitions and inspired me to follow my own. They are funny, smart and dedicated and make me want to strive to be better every time I moderate a class. Many of them have also become my friends and the time I have spent with them outside of English Zone has resulted in some of my favorite experiences here so far.

I had no idea when I applied for this summer program in Bishkek that I would become part of a startup company that is trying to change the education world. I didn’t know that I would find a new passion or that I would meet my students and learn so much from them. They have opened up parts of this culture that I would not have gotten a chance to see as a foreigner. Before going to English Zone and meeting the people there, I hadn’t really considered the possibility that I would come back to Kyrgyzstan down the road, this trip seemed like a once in a lifetime kind of deal. The unexpected friendships and connections I have made there have made me want to return and learn more about this country and become more involved in the work that English Zone does.

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Filed under Gabby in Kyrgyzstan, South & Central Asia

The Various Stages of Culture Shock, Homesickness, and Reverse Culture Shock

When I first arrived in Spain, it took a few weeks before I fully adjusted to everything: the bizarre eating schedule, the food tastes, the money, the unknown streets, not to mention the language barrier. However, I knew that if I threw myself into it, I could overcome the challenges and learn to enjoy myself. Initially, that worked. It was a new country with new people and places to see; I loved trying everything new and soaking up as much of it as quickly as I could. Eventually though, I couldn’t take it; I became overwhelmed with the differences, and the having to think in a foreign language constantly became mentally exhausting. I really started to miss home, and I’d only been abroad for a few short weeks. I missed late night Steak n Shake runs with my friends, peanut butter, mac n cheese, and going to the movies.

Honestly, one of my biggest mistakes was going to my Facebook and talking to everyone back at home. Instead of making me feel better, I felt worse. However, my parents surprised me by sending me a package full of American junk food, so that made me feel a bit better. My host sister helped me out as well. After a few weeks of staying with her, she introduced me to her friends (who were also my age) and I was invited to one of their parties. It was fun, and they kept insisting that I spoke Spanish very well, which was certainly a major confidence booster. A few weeks after that, we all went to a movie together, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could understand almost all of the movie, despite it being completely in Spanish, without subtitles.

The homesickness came and went. I had days where I really missed home and others where I felt like I could stay in Spain forever. Eventually, I had to say goodbye to all the friends I had made while in Spain, including the host family that I had grown so close to over the past few months. Saying goodbye was hard, but I still e-mail them and let them know how I am doing when I have time. When I got home though, after the first few weeks of catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in months, I wanted nothing more than to go back to Spain. English just sounded ugly to me, and my stomach turned at the sight of certain foods here. But, I now love putting olive oil in most foods now, and even though I can’t help but slip into Spanish sometimes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing! I’ve been able to successfully communicate with a few Spanish-speaking customers at my summer job as a cashier, and I’ve chatted with a friend of mine who studied abroad in Peru. We’re constantly comparing cultural differences while also improving our language skills. Though I do still miss Spain, I know that my place is here for now, and that my experience and knowledge gained while there will be invaluable in the future.

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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

Life After India

I remember when I was a freshman in high school and I was advised to “cherish the next four years” because they were going to “fly by.” They did. I remember as a freshman in college when I was encouraged to “appreciate this time in your life” as “it will go by in the blink of an eye.” It did. When I was told that my semester abroad would go by faster than any other semester, I truly did assume that it would. And it did, in ways – but in other ways my time in India was immeasurable. Sometimes it feels like the past semester sped by, but other times it’s as if a lifetime was spent in India. Traditional senses of time do not apply when you go abroad.

There are many things I’ve seen in India that I can’t process yet here in the States, nor will I be able to in the near future. Likewise, there are many things that I now notice and get unhappy about. When I see people wasting water frequently, I am immediately reminded of how limited its availability truly is. I’m also reminded again of the high consumption of meat in the United States, whereas in most of India people typically have to go out of their way to find a “non-Veg” restaurant. I miss hearing songs from the latest Bollywood films and I miss seeing cows, camels, and yes – even the occasional elephant – walking in the streets. I miss jackfruit chips and morning chai (though I do not miss mid-day, afternoon, and evening chai – that got to be a tad excessive). Most importantly, I miss the beautiful souls I met whilst in India and the incredible experiences we had there. I’ve been talking about India a lot with my friends and family, which is helping me readjust to life stateside. I’m currently trying to incorporate everything I’ve learned in India into my daily life, which is proving to be challenging in this strange old environment. I can boil up my efforts into a simple act: make the most out of every single day, just as I would if I were traveling. I may not be traveling now, but my time abroad has taught me that I can always live like a traveler

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Filed under Karly in India, South & Central Asia

Hospital Shock

For the most part, I consider myself a pretty easy-going person. It takes a lot to frustrate me, and luckily this trait has carried itself over with me into India. Recently, however, I had to tackle the largest issue I’ve had here yet: getting sick. The exact causes and diagnoses were unknown, but I had to remain hospitalized for two days here, in Jaipur. Hospitals are never “fun” places to be, even in the United States – but they are especially not fun in India. Without going into detail, I can say that there were many unpleasant experiences at the hospital that frustrated me as nothing had ever frustrated me before. I suddenly found myself at the lowest point of the traditional “Culture Shock” diagram… I felt completely helpless and yearned to be with my family in the United States. I had hours to ruminate on negative thoughts, which only made me feel worse physically. Eventually I got to a point where I had to decide how I was going to process this situation: was I going to let it overpower all of the amazing memories of the things I had seen, felt, and experienced throughout my time abroad? Or could I accept things for what they were and be grateful for all of the kind souls who were helping me? I chose the latter and came out of the hospital without any ill feelings (no pun intended).

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Filed under Karly in India, South & Central Asia, Uncategorized