Tag Archives: culture shock

Back in the Homeland: Both of Us Different?

“Ta…” I responded to my sister when she told me we would go grab lunch. The word is a response Brazilians say after agreeing with somebody – in full it’s ‘esta,’ meaning alright. I’ve been repeatedly saying it over the past weeks along with others, yet that’s not the only thing. I genuinely miss Brazil. I’ve really been readjusting back to life in California. I didn’t originally believe in reverse culture shock, but I adamantly admit it now. The feeling of remembering the country and the lifestyle, from the beaches to the acai.

When I first arrived in Brazil last year I felt homesick not weeks after my arrival, but months. It took me a good few months to adjust to my new lifestyle there in Rio, with new friends from town and foreigners. Now here in Los Angeles the same is true. The food is not the same as in Brazil, my routine is totally different, I am now driving after one year of busing, and am reconnecting with old friends and especially making new ones. Also, I missed In-N-Out.

I’m also back living at home, home, not in Davis where I was a student, but with my family in Los Angeles and searching for jobs – that has been an experience. The study abroad program was my last project I completed during my undergraduate career. I therefore came directly to my hometown in Los Angeles and haven’t been in Davis for a long time. I’m currently working part-time and hoping to find an internship while I continue my search for a career job in Los Angeles or Washington D.C. I’ve got to add that it has been very difficult finding a job but the experience in Brazil most pointedly stands out during job interviews. I’m now trilingual and can confidently speak of my fluency in Portuguese.

Moreover, I learned this sort of awareness about American materialism and values and certain attitudes. Now a 300ml soda drink is more than enough for me, for example – I did tell some about 7-Eleven’s massive Big Gulp cups. I’m also much more direct and open now than when I left, which is difficult to grasp because Brazilians are often known to foreigners as very laid back and relaxed. There’s plenty of stress now given the job hunt, but its healthy stress after a year of exploring and been adventurous in a foreign country and not really knowing anybody.

Home is also different. I’m back but busy and not in my most recent home, Davis. The city of Davis had been my home for a very long time now. Friends I saw regularly are far and away, with some in a different country altogether. I’m back in my family home, not in the new home I made where new and fond relationships were created. Plus, the country too has changed. Values and traditions seem upside-down, with old ideas at the forefront of political debates. The homeland has changed, my home has changed, I have changed, yet for the better we will only know tomorrow.

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Filed under Ricardo in Brazil

343 Days Later: The Return to the U.S.

The year I spent in Japan was one of, if not the best, year of my life. I learned and experienced more than I ever thought was possible in that amount of time. I met a lot of great people and formed many wonderful connections. Despite all this, I was excited to return back the the U.S. It had been nearly an entire year since I left, and I was ready to get back to my roots. There was a lot of stuff I missed about America while I was in Japan and I was really looking forward to all of it.

I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost four days now and there are a ton of differences that I have noticed. No matter what I’m doing or where I am, I constantly compare Japan and America. The very first thing I noticed, after arriving in Dallas for my connecting flight, was the size of the people. I mean, Americans are huge. I was average size/height in Japan at 5 feet and 6 inches, but over here in the states, I’m tiny. I then flew to Cincinnati and while on my way home, realized how spacious America is. There are fields that go on and on, and a lot of it isn’t being used at all, not for farming, housing, anything. This was surprising to see since, due to how mountainous Japan is, all arable land is put to use whether it be housing or agriculture.

Not only are the people bigger and the country more spacious, but just about everything in America is bigger and more spacious than in Japan: houses, cars, supermarkets, portion sizes, everything. I went to Walmart with my mother and it was the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen. I mean it was actually almost unbelievable. Coming from the tiny supermarkets with narrow aisles in Japan to this super Walmart in America, I had a huge moment of culture shock. Not only this, but all the signs and product information was in English. I could actually read all of it! We went to a restaurant too, and I was surprised to be able to understand all the conversations around me. In Japan, I couldn’t fully comprehend all the speaking around me, especially when it was all jumbled together, so it was easy to ignore it; however, I found it difficult to ignore all the chatter around me at the restaurant. That’s something I never thought I’d experience.

Now that I’m back home, I will be finishing my final year of university. I plan to continue studying Japanese in my free time and while I’m not completely sure what I will do after I graduate, applying to graduate school in Japan is one option. I have also considered teaching English there as well. I’ve gained a lot of experience and abilities since my time in Japan and I feel that it has better prepared me for the real world. I grew a lot and am very grateful for everything I learned. I had a wonderful time and Japan and I am ready to finish up my schooling in America. Both culture shock and reverse culture shock affected me, and I recommend to anyone else experiencing these to fully embrace it and run with it, don’t try to fight it.

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Filed under Chance in Japan

The Blur of City Life: Rebuilding My Past, Present, and Future

I landed in Australia on the 21st of August. Today is the 11th of November, nearly three months after my Virgin Australia international flight touched down in Brisbane International Airport. Everyday has been a new experience. On one day, I am riding my bike precariously close to cars driving on high speed lanes, and another day I am studying in a cubicle at one of three libraries I regularly go to on the University of Queensland (UQ) campus, taking part in an act that tens of thousands of students here at UQ participate in.

Life in Brisbane comes by in a blur. Waiting for the bus at one of the central transit centers is a hair-raising experience. The process is like this:

1) Look up on the timetable and remember when your bus is coming.

2) Look up at the electronic arrivals board and see if your bus is on time or late (which is often enough).

3) Concentrate on recognizing that your bus with the correct number is coming into the station.

4) Flag the bus down to stop at the station immediately. If you have not done so, then you missed your bus already because it has already driven off.

I have missed my bus twice. Once during rush hour when I was not paying attention and it sped off towards the next station. And another when my bus went past me and I caught up to it as it waited in the bus queue, but the door closed on me just as I ran up to it. The bus driver was not keen on opening that door.

At my homestay, I struggle to come home early because much of my time is spent at a UQ library doing homework on a library computer as a result of a my personal laptop suffering from water damage. I have to cope with being without technology since I have broken my iPhone and Macbook laptop, and I miss the ease of carrying these around to stay connected to others through the Internet. Additionally, my back-up Razor flip-phone has recently lost its ability to project my voice to callers on the other side. Loss of a majority of technology? That was modern culture shock.

Living with a host family has been a departure from my two years living in college dorm housing at my home university in the U.S.. My host family really helped with my process of adjusting to Australia by providing a physical home with people I consider my extended family now. I have not had any bad bouts of homesickness, but I did experience a bit of depression from forfeiting control that I possess in my own country when arriving in Australia. Here, I am a guest, and sometimes the only way to learn my way around is by making mistakes, which requires more patience than I’m used to. When I look back at my study abroad experience in Australia, I will see it as a time when I made the most mistakes I have ever made and have taken the most risks ever!

On the 9th of November, the day after we returned from a class excursion to Heron Island, our lecture in class was not on any of the subjects that we have studied this semester, but it was about culture shock and reverse culture shock! Amazing and coincidental that it was exactly what I was going to write about for this blog post!

From the time I decided I was going to do this unknown and alien thing called study abroad, I was already preparing myself in many ways: Figuring out international cell phone plans, travel plans, “what are you going to bring there” plans, and most importantly, my plane ticket plan. It was a LOT of preparation going in. I had numerous documents for my study abroad program to sign and complete by strict deadlines, all while I was still taking classes at college. But now that all of that prep work is finished, I can focus on the question: How am I going to remember this? And how am I going to go back to the United States after spending a quarter of a year in a foreign country– 1.2% of my current life?

The lecturer warned us that people and things will have moved on without us, whether we like it or not. People back home have started moving in a direction where they have either completely forgotten about you or replaced you with new friends. After all, study abroad makes it hard to stay in touch with everyone you know back home.

Another thing the lecturer shared is that our peers might shrug us off if we start getting too yappy about what a great time we had studying abroad. This is because everyone I talk to about my experience will not be as emotionally invested in my experience as I am, and they might even be a bit annoyed listening to me babble on about what a great time I had. This lesson from the lecture really perked my ears. I imagined myself back on my home campus, speaking with a friend at a football game, sharing about what a great time I had at the Great Barrier Reef on Heron Island. The person will likely not be interested in this story, because they have most likely never been to Australia or to the Great Barrier Reef themselves, or spent as much time and energy studying the ecosystem and culture as I have this semester. Australia is a distant place for most of my American peers. There is no string of experiences that allows them to connect to my story and say “Yeah, I can relate to that.”

I imagine the adjustment of returning home will be similar to adjusting to my first year of college, but on a grander scale of adjusting from the Australian culture that I have grown so used to. I am even imagining how much the playground across the street from my home in New York has changed since I’ve been gone. Last fall semester of my sophomore year, the park was completely torn down and in shambles, but by the following summer the playground equipment was just being put up. And by the time I return, the park will be complete with no more orange construction fences, and perhaps snow will cover the playground where the kids will play in the spring. To understand and talk about what it is to study abroad and return home is one of the most interesting challenges that I have encountered in my life. Despite the personal challenges that I faced, I can confidently say that this experience as a whole has changed me for the better.

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Filed under Oceania, Raymond in Australia

Friends Taking the Shock Out of Culture

My first couple of weeks trying to manage what I will call my new and transformational “Chinese life” definitely presented some difficulties. Months before I even thought about how everything was going to work out abroad, I heard the term “culture shock” at my university’s study abroad orientation. It seems that in many people’s minds culture shock is some mystical, fairytale-esque concept, or that it’s your immediate reaction to a new place when you first arrive. This term was briefly discussed during the orientation for my program, and I overheard several students sort of laugh away the significance of it. To put it simply, culture shock develops this way: once you enter your new surroundings, you’re in a “honeymoon” state, everything is wonderful and unfamiliar, for a while it feels like you’re the star of some kind of movie.

My motion picture included sign upon sign that reeked of bad translation, my running theory is these places pay someone to just run their shop’s name through some mediocre translating software.

My motion picture included sign upon sign that reeked of bad translation, my running theory is these places pay someone to just run their shop’s name through some mediocre translating software.

As time goes on it fades and gradually you start to feel uncomfortable and extremely out of place (in China, where everyone save a small percentage are ethnically Chinese, this feeling comes extremely quickly), and you start to miss the little things your home has that your new home doesn’t. I’m here to tell you that during my first “transitional” few weeks, I was a prime example of this stage of culture shock. I’ve never been in a city as large as Kunming, and my biggest distress was that I felt like a grain of sand on this huge beach I didn’t understand. Slowly but surely this started to fade away as my relationship with my classmates and my roommate improved. So far the person that I appreciate the most is my roommate. Here’s a short breakdown of how I got my roommate: CET Academic Programs, the organization that is in charge of my program, gives each one of us a Chinese roommate in order to foster our language abilities, as well as give us a chance to intimately know a Chinese person and how they live their lives day by day. My roommate had to apply and be interviewed, and is given strict instructions to not speak English at all with me. That being said, even though at times I fear our communication is poor due to the language barrier, he’s become one of my best friends so far. The most interesting thing about our friendship to me is the fact that we’re constantly exchanging cultural information about our homes, while all of my other friends back home center around our common interests (my roommate and my interests almost mirror each other, so that aspect is there as well).

I take that back, the most interesting thing has to be his fear of photos.

I take that back, the most interesting thing has to be his fear of photos.

A couple of weeks ago we got to talking and somehow I brought up Fifty Shades of Grey, which was risky because I really didn’t want to explain what the plot line was (is there even one?), and after a while my roommate eluded to the promiscuity of Americans by saying he didn’t know why we liked being intimate so much. At the time I played it cool but was surprised that that kind of misconception of Americans exists. I tried my hardest to clear that up for him and tell him that many Americans (myself included) aren’t like that using my child-like Chinese, and I don’t regret it one bit. Although we’ve never had a talk about misconceptions and stereotypes about Chinese people, many of them have been cleared up from subtle nuances I caught just being around him so much. My favorite cultural insight is Chinese hospitality. When he and I would go out to eat, countless times he would pay for me without a second thought (we started going dutch after I finally figured out how to say there was no need), and let’s not forget all of the times I had no idea what I was doing and he would help me understand something, or simply take me to put minutes on my phone.

He also took me to a temple near Yunnan University, the college that I have my classes in.

He also took me to a temple near Yunnan University, the college that I have my classes in.

When we got there we were given two candles and some incense. Once we got to the kiosks where they go, I lit my candles with the flame of another, then placed them down inside the kiosk.

When we got there we were given two candles and some incense. Once we got to the kiosks where they go, I lit my candles with the flame of another, then placed them down inside the kiosk.

After that, the incense was lit, and I stood in front of one of the temple’s buildings to make a wish and pray (my roommate helped me with this every step of the way). Not going to lie, I wished for a hamburger.

After that, the incense was lit, and I stood in front of one of the temple’s buildings to make a wish and pray (my roommate helped me with this every step of the way). Not going to lie, I wished for a hamburger.

All in all, I’m going to make sure once I arrive home to not forget his kindness, and to pay it forward by taking that piece of Chinese culture to the States. Going back to what I said about culture shock, there’s also a stage where you begin to feel comfortable with how things work where you are. I can proudly report that I’m tiptoeing my way into a rut, but not in the cliché way this word is often used. In a place where little children (and very often the elderly) look at you like you come from outer space, having a routine that includes friends you never thought you’d have is a blessing that is hard to take for granted.

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Filed under Culture Shock, East Asia, Garrett in China

That Time I Couldn’t Speak My Own Language

The first time I think I really experienced culture shock was when I got to the Istanbul Atatürk Airport passport control. Obviously a lot of the people in line were also foreigners like me, but I was still blown away by the amount of different cultures and ethnicities I was seeing in the line with me. That is also the great thing about Istanbul. It truly is a city of East meets West. There isn’t really one culture, but a melting pot of cultures that make up the city, and I am so privileged to have experienced it.

The thing with culture shock for me is that I was expecting it, so it does not seem as interesting to talk about it. Of course a person is going to be shocked when they move outside of their comfort zone and into a world they have never experienced before. However, the thing that I never thought would happen, especially while I still lived in the country, was reverse culture shock. Now I still have about one month left in Turkey, but I still have had a couple times where I think I have experienced reverse culture shock.

The first time was when I was alone in my bedroom watching one of my favorite TV shows, “How I Met Your Mother.” During this certain scene the main characters are getting into a cab and they tell the driver the place they would like to go. The cab driver’s response is where I got quite anxious. He simply drove off… I know this is not very exciting, but there have been plenty of times when I have taken a taxi while abroad and not known if I was actually going to end up in the right place because of the language barrier. It is especially stressful when I am in a country like Bulgaria when I know absolutely zero Bulgarian. I think the reason I got anxious was because in a way I didn’t understand how easy it was for the taxi driver to understand where he needed to drive his passengers. It has been a while since that has happened to me.

The other time I have experienced reverse culture shock while in Turkey also has to deal with language. Since my American phone doesn’t work in Turkey I had to get a new phone with a Turkish number. I have to add new minutes and texting every month, however my phone shop guy doesn’t speak English very well. I got into this routine of what to say in Turkish to him so I could be in and out within a few minutes. Last month he hired a new girl, so when I went in the last time I dealt with her. She is foreign and speaks perfect English, so this should have been even easier to do than when I deal with my normal phone shop guy. Weirdly enough, it was not. I guess since I had perfected how to explain my plan in Turkish, I never really learned it in English, so when the new girl asked me what to add to my phone I had no idea what to tell her. In the end I figured it out, but it was still extremely shocking that I couldn’t add minutes to my phone in my native language.

Culture shock is an amazing thing that I want to keep experiencing for the rest of my life. There is nothing like it and everyone should have the opportunity to experience it at least once. At the end of June I will return to the States and I am sure I will have plenty more reverse culture shock experiences to tell.

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Filed under Western Europe, Zachary in Turkey

A Land of Culture Shock

To most, Southeast Asia could be considered the land of culture shock. There is no place more different in culture and lifestyle than the other side of the world, Thailand. Even menial tasks become a shock to the senses, an adventure, simply something new. It’s truly a scary and wonderful kind of feeling.

Living in Thailand the past several months has had me ride through a rollercoaster of shock and awe that I never expected. It was a constant state of relearning how to do basic tasks in a wholly new environment, in a different and complex language. Yes, there were times where the shock was probably too much and I would hole up in my room wishing I didn’t have to invent hand signs to order the food I wanted or bargain for the smallest thing. But I wouldn’t have asked for a better experience.

The first several months were the definitive months for culture shock. I was in this new country where I didn’t speak the language and was unaccustomed to the significantly different style of education my host university operated on. Street food became my new dinner, water became a commodity on reserve, air conditioning became my new best friend and motorbikes my ill-favored enemy. I even found myself speaking far less with my stateside friends and family than I hoped. I loved the newness of my new world but found myself anxious and nervous much of the time. It was something I had expected, in a sense, but not at this magnitude.

But, as my first semester of study came to a close, I found myself growing accustomed to the Thai lifestyle. I could speak the language a fair amount, had made a handful of Thai and international friends and generally felt comfortable.

The second semester would follow and sometime during the 8th or 9th month of my time abroad, I came to the realization that I had become more than comfortable in my new lifestyle. Without sounding too sentimental or hyperbolic, I felt at home. Whether this feeling came from a good working knowledge of the language or the new friends or what have you, I can say that I began to feel just as at home in Thailand as in Kentucky.

In all, I believe that culture shock is a phenomenon that needs to be experienced and is a building block of any study abroad. Sometimes it may feel terrifying but eventually it becomes a lovely part of the new life and should be cherished. As I look towards the next month and my subsequent return to America, I hope to be able to experience the same shock upon my return.

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Filed under Culture Shock, Doug in Thailand, South & Central Asia

Pushing Your Limits: The Value of Study Abroad

Here’s a graph about culture shock, which should seem familiar since it pops up on this blog a lot.

Graph1_plain 

I’d really like to start this post with: I hate this graph.

“Hate” is a strong word, I know.  If you’d like, I have other words I could use to describe my relationship with this graph: loathe, despise, abhor, detest.

Not any better?  Alright, we’ll stick to hate.

I’m a math major.  And I’ve tried really, really hard, y’all, to spare you from hearing about that.  For example, fun story I almost wrote about: I had the same taxi driver two days in a row, and we ended up becoming friends! The way I was going to tell it: I literally calculated the odds that I would have the same taxi two days in a row– a little under 4 ten thousandths out of 1, for the curious– and then nestled that into a story about Pi Day because it happened in March.  (You’re welcome for changing that up.)

But now I have to write about a line graph, which is so solidly in my Mathematics Zone that there is no way to go about this without a little bit of SCIENCE.

Ahem, sorry for the caps lock, I got excited.

This is a line graph.  While the axes are unlabeled, the x-axis (along the bottom) is pretty obviously time, and the correspondence of “high points” with emotionally positive things, and vice versa, can lead us to guess that the y-axis is “happiness.”

Graph2_axes 

And now, my dear reader, let me add a straight line, marking “constant happiness” from where you began, pre-study abroad.


Graph3_LineOfConstantHappiness

And now, my dear reader, what do you notice?

You finish below the line of constant happiness.  You end up less happy.  Study abroad is a net negative.

What?!?

(Disclaimer, it’s not just me: I showed the original, unmarked graph to Juliana, my roommate, for whom– and I quote– even basic math is difficult, and she still immediately asked, “So life will never be as good as before?”)

I’ve studied abroad before, thanks to the US Dept. of State NSLI-Y scholarship, and I can assure you that my life improved significantly.  That summer in Morocco altered my goals in life, political views, interpersonal relationships, perception of myself, America, and Arabs… and all for the better.  Were there low points, both during my trip and during reverse culture shock after?  Of course.

But were my happiness and life, overall, improved?  Of course!

And now, with the amazing opportunity to study abroad a second time with the Gilman Scholarship, yeah, sure, I identify with this graph on some level.  I had a week there in month two where I just wanted to see my friends, the ones I’ve been friends with for years instead of all the ones I’d just met; I anticipate some absolutely terrible reverse culture shock next month, when I want to take a taxi to downtown and listen to live Arabic jazz, and realize I’m in Kentucky where nothing interesting happens ever; of course I’ve had some local minima– er, I mean, “downs.”

But I still hate this graph, and I want you to all know that it gets things so so so so so wrong with regard to the most important part: where you end should be way higher than where you began, because studying abroad is awesome and will make your life better.

Brought to you by your not-so-local math major.

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Filed under Charlotte in Jordan, Culture Shock, middle east