Posts Tagged ‘culture shock’


Thomas: Culture shock

September 9, 2011

When someone is placed in a new environment, an environment that differs from their own and one that they are not used to, they are taken back, anxious and uncomfortable. Culture shock is the popular term to describe this phenomenon. On a short vacation to a foreign country, one is not likely to experience this because of the many “tourist settings” available across the world, and the mindset that the stay is only a few days or weeks.

Since arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina over a week ago, I have definitely experienced a form of culture shock and am likely still going through some initial fazes. It’s located on the other side of planet Earth, on a continent I had never even set foot in. One can expect some culture shock. Experiencing culture shock is the only way to know how it actually feels, so I will not try to describe it. I will however, highlight a few of the differences between Buenos Aires and Minnesota, more specially Minneapolis since this is the last place I have lived. To compare it to rural Minnesota and my hometown wouldn’t be at all justifiable, however, there are some similarities in the people.

1) City Life: For those (some in my family) who think Minneapolis or St. Paul is overwhelming, come to Buenos Aires. Much like New York City, Paris or Rome, Buenos Aires is a huge, bustling urban development. There are people everywhere you look at nearly all times of the day. Like any large city, street crime is an issue. Pick pocketing and theft is always a concern. Not being used to this type of activity definitely had me on edge the first week. Going outdoors seemed like a chore and was mentally exhausting. I discovered that you adapt very quickly to this reality and it becomes natural to remain guarded and vigilant.

Traffic is also a huge issue within the city. From what I have observed, traffic laws are not typically enforced. Most drivers obey street lights, but on the streets with no lights, pedestrians like myself must remain aware for fear of being hit by cars. I choose to exclusively walk to wherever I want to go. Only at night when you happen to be far from home would you take a taxi cab. I have yet to take a bus.

Overall, at least in the first week, large city life has been exhausting.

2) The obvious language barrier. I won’t go into this, but it is very frustrating when you want or need something and you find it hard to communicate what that is to the other person. It’s a great way to learn the language though, and I can already feel the progress.

3) The people. Argentinians in general, are very nice people. They are proud of their heritage, their country and their families. I find some similarities in them with people from my hometown, who are also very proud of their heritage and are very nice. The biggest difference between people here and in Minnesota is the way they act and converse in public. Argentinians will always greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and maybe even a hug. They are very touchy, affectionate people. A lot of times they will even kiss strangers on the cheek. It doesn’t matter who you are. In the U.S., primarily you would never see this. A handshake maybe, if you like the other person and maybe a hug for a family member or close friend. Nothing more—we like our space.

There are several other differences in ways of life to be pointed out, but I will stop there. And of course I was told about all of these things before arriving, but you never can truly understand them unless you experience them firsthand.

As a newcomer to this country, you can do one of two things; reject and criticize the culture of the Porteños and detest your experience abroad, or accept and embrace the differences in lifestyle/culture to enjoy and learn. I think the choice is clear.


Kelsey: At the one-month mark

July 30, 2011

I’ve already made it to the one-month mark, which seriously blows my mind. The days here are flying by faster than I ever thought they would. I’ve already done SO many amazing things, and I haven’t even done the coolest things on my list of things to do! 

I had to do an assignment for a class I’m taking through the U that is all about reflecting on your experience and talking about the ups and downs that come along with “culture shock.” Culture shock is defined as having a “Honeymoon” stage where everything is great and you have no complaints, a “Frustrated/Down” stage where you can’t stop comparing your new culture to one that you’re familiar with and usually the familiar culture is perceived as “better”, the “Adjustment” stage where you’re finally getting used to how things work and rarely compare to home, then finally there is the “Mastery” stage where you are fully comfortable in the no-longer new surroundings and act as if this was your home culture. In the assignment we had to describe how we’ve been feeling within the first month and which stages that we may call ourselves in at the moment. I said that I don’t think that culture shock is a process that you continue to go over just once, I think it’s a process that could last months or it could all be in one day. If I were to put myself in any stage at this moment it would be the Adjustment stage because I’m finally starting to get the hang of this crazy place! 

Honestly though, I could not have been doing this well here if I didn’t have such great support at home from family and friends. It means the world to me when people pop in and ask how I’m doing and say that they love my pictures/blog etc. 

It has already been a wild ride and I haven’t even gone on my upcoming ski trip or weeklong backpacking trip! Keep looking for pictures/blog posts, I’m going to try my best to keep up!


Alex: Emotional hangover

July 15, 2011

Yesterday was rough. It was the first day I had all to myself, and I didn’t take well to it. I wasn’t tired, but all I wanted to do was sleep, eat, and shower because those things passed the most time. It was fairly miserable. I suspect the problem is a multifaceted one.

First, and most prominently, this was the first day I had that was truly lacking adventure. No travel, no caves, no exotic landscapes, not even any boring bus rides or campus tours. Just sitting in my room. After a week of non-stop excitement, I felt the lack of it with acute depression. It was like all the air had suddenly been sucked out of me, and there was no hope of getting it back. Everything I tried to do to amuse myself just bored me to sleep. Even exercise, which I tried multiple times, hoping it would at least get my blood pumping, was mind-numbing.

I suspect also that spending so much time listening to this audiobook of mine, which is fantastic by the way, has put in somewhat of a lethargic mood. Reading often has this effect on me, but with this book there is the added effect that it is so enthralling that I do not wish to do anything, for fear of missing some exciting action in the book.

Finally, I suspect a large part of my problem was a combination of culture shock and generally feeling out of place. Most of my familiar distractions do not work here (netflix, Hulu, even WoW locked me out for trying to access it from a strange location), there is NOTHING on television here, and everyone else I know seems to be having a ton of fun. I’ve felt a little left out for a while on this trip, since I didn’t come here for adventure (I came for exhilarating research), and even if I had I don’t really have the resources to partake in all the adventure and much of the excitement of the rest of the group. (It’s hard to go out drinking every night for seven dollars a beer).

I suspect I’m also nervous about classes, although it feels more like excitement to me, I am apprehensive about finding my way around yet another strange campus, especially when class listings use some sort of strange number code, rather than building names to give location.

So in order to cheer myself up a emailed a few moko artists in the area, none of whom have yet replied, and watched some Masterchef Australia before the even-more-mind-numbing news came on.

I ate too much and went to bed early and sad.


Jessica: Points of difference

June 9, 2011

There are lots of little things that make up culture shock between Ireland and home. Here are a few:

  • No one seems to use half and half. For anything. So I cool down my Americanos with “semi-skimmed milk” or whole milk.
  • The washer and dryers are in one unit- and take 5 times as long, sounding like rocket ships taking off
  • The symbol of Ireland is the Harp, and the color of the country is Blue, not green. Huh.
  • “What’s the Craic?” (pronounced “crack”); the term means “fun” or “what’s good,” hence why they made a shirt that said, “What’s the craic, Barack?” when he visited
  • Flipping off people is the peace sign, knuckles facing out
  • All students in Belfast seemed to wear uniforms– which leads to some ridiculously high heels and crazy hair
  • Shorts are the “going out” outfit, as they don’t often wear them during the day due to rain, it is the risque way to show leg going out
  • They wear rompers. And jumpsuits. A lot. With heavy floral pattern. Imagine Jasmine’s flouncy pants but with flowers all over them. In real life.
  • There’s a lot of dyed red/magenta hair–and it’s not frowned upon
  • Lots of consignment shops dedicated to cancer research or pets in need of vets in Belfast
  • Dogs dont have to be leashed–they run freely and are well trained to stay with their owners
  • The flute is a manly instrument here
  • Fire doors. EVERYWHERE. Fire extinguishers. Everywhere. We’re lucky that we found the ONE for our entire Minneapolis apartment building.
  • You have to switch all the outlets on to use them
  • The “goth” look is… cool?
  • Everything shuts down pretty early unless it’s a pub. But in Belfast they close at 1.
  • 9 Euro for a pack of cigarettes; or about 8 pounds in Belfast
  • Ireland is home to the highest heels I’ve ever seen. There are no heels in a normal range for me, I am on my tip toes.
  • In Dublin, you pay 1 Euro extra for each additional person in the taxi.
  • Many places in Europe charge you for bags at the grocery store
  • Less preservatives here–food spoils faster; apparently the EU doesn’t allow chemicals unless they’re proven to be safe. The USDA allows it until it’s proven harmful. Good job, America
  • Everything is in military time
  • People don’t really wear leggings. Just tights.
  • They greet you with “hey-ya”
  • Solicitors here means “lawyer,” “to let” means for rent, “take away” is take out, “chips” are fries, “crisps” are chips, a man’s wallet is wallet, a woman’s wallet is her purse, and her purse is her handbag, “prams” are strollers, they say “holiday” instead of vacation, “give way” instead of yield signs, and countless others that Kelsey Bitney would be better at remembering…
  • I can’t find chicken noodle soup ANYWHERE.
  • The days in the summer are LONG here–it is light out till 9 or 10 in May
  • I don’t ever see locals wearing rain boots.
  • Lack of public restrooms and trash cans. Bad news.

Anyway this is NOT an exhaustive list.

But I must say, Dublin doesn’t seem to have any Irish culture but rather just a metropolitan, going-out, tourist culture. It’s very hard to find it endearing when it feels SO commercialized everywhere–it’s quite the culture shock from Belfast, which feels like home.

Not to mention several rooms in the hotel have run out of toilet paper but apparently so is the main office soooo we’ll see what happens with that. Rationing TP is not what I planned for in a hotel. Overall it’s kind of hilarious because the plan is now to hoard TP at every dining establishment we go to from now on.

Other recent happenings:

  • St. Stephen’s Green with Rachel- a giant beautiful park in the middle of this crazy city
  • Caught short parody performance of Macbeth there
  • Got tickets for Romeo and Juliet for Wednesday, since tonight was sold out
  • Shopped at Penneys
  • Went to part of a church service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and listened ot the men’s choir sing- GORGEOUS acoustics in the chamber.
  • Analyzed my spending so far– ew. Not pretty.
  • Watched Michael Collins for class
  • Laughed hysterically with my roommates

Connie: Immersion

December 10, 2010

I haven’t blogged in a while, and now my head is full of things to type about. I don’t know whether I can say the past few weeks have been particularly eventful, but given a bit of free time I feel like I can take this time to reflect on them.

They say when you move to a foreign country, you go through this scale of emotions. You start out in what they call the “honeymoon phase” where everything is new and amazing. I definitely went through that. I took pictures of everything, was in a good mood to everyone, and woke up every morning with some sickeningly cheery song in my head.

Then sometime around Thanksgiving you’re supposed to go into a downward spiral and get homesick and whatnot. Actually, I haven’t felt particularly homesick. Thanksgiving didn’t even feel like Thanksgiving—I spent it eating Japanese food in a traditional-style restaurant with one American, a Brit and a Fin, finishing up the night at the game center. But the newness has worn off. Sometimes I don’t feel like eating at any of the restaurants around. Sometimes I wonder what the heck my close friend has been doing and why he hasn’t bothered to contact me. Sometimes I get tired of the people I see every day, since it feels like we’ve closed ourselves off, and I can’t get the immersion I want. It doesn’t help that the people I do want to talk to in Japanese don’t seem particularly interested in talking to me lately.

Not that I want to complain so much. This feeling of isolation has actually lit a fire under me to get more immersed.

Last Thursday I spent most of my day with a Korean who wants to study English. I could probably write a blog on him—a very animated guy with a pretty face, but someone who likes lies and is somewhat of an airhead. As he insisted I should tell him an ‘interesting story’ I ended up talking about how I’d played the flute for about 10 years before entering university. It was with this that he brought me to his jazz circle. Not only did I get to play with a group for the first time in 3 years, but I got to speak only in Japanese and listen to music talk in Japanese. I’ve been wanting to join a circle since I got here. I’m glad I finally found one.

I really like the two Japanese students I played a trio with. I’ll have to practice so I can get good enough to really play.

Friday was a party for my friend who was finally released from the hospital—at least that’s what the party’s organizer claimed it was. Our theory was that he just wanted to have a party. Our parties before had been at the lake near our dorm, but since the weather has turned cold at night we moved to 大島大 (Ooshimaoo), a bar that the exchange students lovingly call the “yakuza bar.” Apparently, Japanese gangsters were spotted there firsthand by my classmates.

The highlight of my night was talking to random Japanese people who happened to come in after us. The first two were introduced to us and were very pleasant to talk to. The second pair we conversed with actually started the conversation with us. Shocking— most Japanese people are very tight-knit and appear to prefer to stay that way. Both pairs were very friendly (though the guy who told us he’d once been offered a job as a host was a bit full of himself). The chance to talk to ‘normal’ Japanese people seems to be a rare one that I’ve come to relish. It tends to make my nights better, even if they end in me beating up a Korean and calling him a liar repeatedly.

I suppose I should quickly elaborate on the aforementioned ‘normal’. I was talking with one of my closer Japanese friends, one who had studied at my university in America prior to me coming here. He asked me what I thought about the group who attends the English Cafe circle. After thinking about it, I realized they were slightly different from your average Japanese person, though me not knowing the ins and outs of Japanese society it was hard for me to put an exact finger on. It still is, but I can see the difference.

I love the people I know, but I want to see more of this ‘normal’ side of society. That’s what immersion is all about in the end.


Sam: Ecuadorganization

November 17, 2010

Overall I haven’t felt too much of a culture shock in Ecuador. I feel comfortable with the language (except when my coworker breaks into Kichwañol), I can confidently navigate the cities, I know how to be safe and, slowly but surely, businesses are noticing that we CIMAS students do indeed live in Otavalo and have started serving us and stopped ripping us off.

The issue I have had being an American abroad is the concept of time. People show up 30 to 60 minutes after the designated time for meeting (on average). I expected this for trying to organize activities; I did not expect this for work. I suppose being a half hour late is fine in stores and restaurants, but heaven forbid I need emergency surgery I can’t say I’d be content to just hang out for an hour until my surgeon decided to show up. I have included a list of my observations regarding what people say and what they mean:

“Ahora” (“Now”) = “Today(ish)”
“Ahorita” (“Right now”) = “Within an hour (possibly)”
“Viene ya mismo” (“He/She is on his/her way”) = “He/she will get around to you when he/she feels like it”
“Apúrate” (“Hurry up”) = “Move at the speed most convenient to you”
“Un ratito” (“A little while”) = “Four hours to a week”

Furthermore, organizational skills are not mandatory, which has been a huge issue for my punctual American conscience. Today we drove to a high school so I could administer a survey. I assumed that all was arranged, mainly because I was assured that it was when I asked. Unsurprisingly, there were no students at all because it is the job of high school students to collect census data all this week. Thankfully, I did get an appointment for Monday, so it remains to be seen if that will come to fruition.

Fortunately, all is not hopeless. My Honors project is approved, the sun came out for a bit today for the first time in a week, and I’m pretty sure I received a job offer for an indigenous agricultural organization if I return within the next two years. I think that’s just the way things are here.


Eric: Back in Minnesota

August 9, 2010

After waiting at Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport for 5 hours, flying for 3 hours from Casablanca to Rome, waiting for almost 4 hours at Leonardo Da Vinci – Fiumicino Airport, spending 11 hours of flying from Rome to Detroit, going  through security and all that and waiting for another 1 hour, and the 1.5 hour of flying from Detroit to the Twin Cities, I finally arrived at Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport.

I took the light rail and a city bus to get to my friend’s house before actually moving into the place I am staying until school starts and moving into the place I am living for fall. Everything now just feels so surreal. I can’t believe that I was just in Morocco, and now I am back in the place that I thought was going to be so familiar to me. As of now, I am still adjusting back to the “American way”. I am not used to seeing the traffic in order, with no small taxi squeezing through every little gap possible, or no pedestrian walking while the light is red. I am not used to the humid/semi-warm weather that doesn’t make me sweat every single minute of the day. I am not used to having a shower with a bathtub and running water (I am really thankful for this one though). I am not used to going back to the place I live and not have someone greet me in Arabic, or even come hug me and give me a kiss on the face (my little host-brother did this sometimes). I am not used to the quietness in general. I am not used to speaking English and being understood immediately. The past 10 weeks have been such an intense experience that I am just having a hard time believing I am back home (sort of). I really need some time to digest this…


Veronica: 35 days since leaving Montpellier

July 4, 2010

Okay. So I feel like I have a lot to explain. I have changed so much in France and realized a lot about myself even after coming back to the US. I like life in France better. That’s what I want. It hurts every day not being there. It’s actually a physical pain. And, as my mom pointed out, what I talked about with my family and in my blog posts sounded negative and like I wasn’t having a good time. She thought I hated being in France. This is the complete opposite of the truth. Yes, it was hard. It’s hard being away from your friends, family, and familiarity, and things don’t always go right or how you expected them. And yes, sometimes it sucked. But only sometimes. There are ups and downs. I will tell you this, and maybe you will find/have found this to be true for you as well: it’s a lot easier to talk about the stuff that you don’t like and/or the stuff that isn’t going right. That’s the stuff (for me, at least) that is easiest to talk about with people who aren’t experiencing what you are. It seems more relatable. It’s easier to talk about a problem. They can’t understand the good stuff because they aren’t there to see the guy playing accordion in the park, or the medieval building, or even a strange bird, or eat true French bread, or meet the people that you do. They can’t just walk down the street, totally in love with the place like you are. You can tell them about it, sure. But they just don’t get it. I know I am like that when I hear memories and stories from friends who have studied abroad. I’m sure it was great, but all it is, is just a story. Nothing else. And now I’m having that happen to me and it really, really bothers me. I feel alone most of the time because of this, as well as misunderstood. It makes being back in the US even harder.

And when you talk about things that are just weird, that you aren’t used to, maybe it accidentally comes out as negative. Maybe that’s what I did a lot of the time and my meanings and intentions were misconstrued. Or maybe when something ridiculous happened to you, like your train being late and meeting some really bizarre people in the process and then having to stand on the train for two hours, sounds like it was a bad experience when it really wasn’t. The word ridiculous is too often mistaken for bad, and it shouldn’t be. France is kind of a ridiculous place, but it is not a bad place. It’s a wonderful place where kind of wacky things happen sometimes.

You have to know that it was the most amazing experience in my life and I wish every waking moment that it hadn’t had to end.


Kathryn: Time is money/Tiempo es dinero

January 22, 2010

I have arrived! My flights were smooth, I haven’t gotten sick, I like my host family…as we say in Ecuador: todo esta bien. This week we had orientation and some classes. We had to choose a track of studies that will help prepare us for related internships, and I chose “microfinanzas.”  In one general lecture today (called “choque de cultura” – culture shock), the speaker was explaining the way that Ecuadorians see time as a cycle, and not linear, as people do in the United States. We have schedules and deadlines and beginnings and endings.  Here in Ecuador, the buses come when they come. Instead of “time is money,” my professor says “tiempo es la vida.” Life is meant to be enjoyed, spent with loved ones, and lived. When we take “descansitos”- little breaks- between classes, we go outside for ten minutes…twenty…thirty. Just as we enjoy extending the breaks, we enjoy drawing out the conversations in class. We have played several games in which each student has to present something for the class. In the U.S., if student presentations are longer than the scheduled class time, everybody leaves and picks it up the next day.  The students revolve around the schedule, in other words. Aqui en Ecuador, the schedule revolves around the students.  Class ends when everyone has participated. This would not be possible in the United States. It is a completely different system.

Other examples of “different systems” are in public transportation and sanitation. Not only do the buses come at different times each hour and day, they also continue moving unless you forcefully flag them down. The drivers prefer passengers to dive onto the bus while it’s moving. When I get on the bus, it starts moving as soon as the last person getting on has one foot on the step. Then, each bus has a teenage boy or man who either walks down the bus aisle collecting the amount (typically a quarter), or takes it as you leave. He also serves as an incentive to move faster, heckling people who lag. As a side note, pedestrians do not have the right of way in Ecuador. I don’t know who does, though, because cars seem to join traffic when they please, suddenly careening in front of your car or bus.  Enough about that. The next biggest instigator of culture shock in Ecuador is the sanitation system, which must consist of very small pipes. Thus, toilet paper is placed in a small trash can next to the toilet, so that it doesn’t overflow. Always!


Although I want to keep this blog general, about Ecuador, I will include personal notes about my experiences and specific situation. To begin, I live with a wonderful 48-year-old woman named Marina (I call her Mami) and her two children Sebastion, 24, and Paula, 22. I will rarely see the kids because Sebas is an army pilot who only comes home on the weekends and Paula is a busy student writing her college thesis and we have different schedules. My Mom has a room with a door and four walls but no ceiling that houses several bird cages and plants. There are more than twenty parakeets en total and a parrot- “el loro”- that says “hola” and other less respectful things. There is also another roofless room with beautiful hanging and potted plants.  Our building has about three levels and we only live on one floor, but my house is considered one of the nicest. Each of us has our own room and we also have a big living room, small kitchen and two bathrooms. I will try to put up pictures soon. Early tomorrow morning, the students on my program are being treated to a mini-vacation. We will go hiking and swimming and stay at a hotel in a place called San Miguel de los Bancos. Ciao!


Veronica: First Entry in France

January 20, 2010

So…it’s been crazy. I’m going to have to cut this down so it isn’t a novel.

I got to France on the morning of the 12th and met my friend who I haven’t seen in almost 10 years. A little awkward, but it was good. I stayed with her for about a week. She showed me around where she lives, and I went to her high school with her for two days. That was really weird. They get smoking breaks and their hallways open to the outside. They take notes verbatim from what the teacher says. It’s required. Then she got married on Saturday the 16th. It was quite a party. It lasted a very long time. I didn’t know very many people since I had only been there a few days and the last time I was with her was when I was 10. But her grandparents and some of her friends took care of me. It was nice. But I spent a lot of time on my own anyway. One thing that I really noticed at the wedding is that guys/men are very forward with women. It’s really unsettling. It’s stuff that just doesn’t happen in the US. It made me uncomfortable. But I have to get used to it.

Now, to Montpellier. It’s gorgeous. I love it. I almost don’t feel like I’m away from home, so that’s either culture shock or this feels like home. Not sure yet. So far, we got a tour of the city, met lots of people, picked out classes (but I register on Friday), ate at the cafeteria, figured out the tram, bought train passes, been a little confused and overwhelmed, and spent lots of money. It’s nuts. But I already have a group of friends, which is nice. It’s not too strong yet, obviously, since it’s so early, but it’s nice all the same.

My host family is really nice. I like them a lot. A lot. But I’m really shy, so I haven’t really talked to them yet. I will once I feel more comfortable. Soon, hopefully. They have a gorgeous house and they have WiFi, and a phone that calls the US for free. They also own a vineyard. If you end up with my family, I can promise that you’ll be happy.
I can tell you that this first week has been hard. Intense culture shock and homesickness. It’s fun, really fun, but it’s so overwhelming that it hasn’t been too enjoyable. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that’s how it feels.
I’ll say more when it isn’t so late at night.
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