Guest post by Maya Fischer
Culture shock sucks. Most people only experience culture shock in the first stage – the honeymoon stage. This is the first few months in a new culture where everything, the food, the music, the language, is new and exciting. For most people, this is a vacation. And then they return home to their lives in the culture they have been living in for many years. For some people, they may move and decide to live in a new country and experience culture shock in its entirety. Then they are a part of this new culture and everything is peachy.
For those of us who are exchange students, we have it the worst. We leave our homes for one year and experience culture shock in all of it’s sucky-ness and then go home when we were just getting comfy.
Let me start at the beginning:
Culture shock has four stages. The first, being the honeymoon stage, is just that. Sweet, fun and light. Everything in this new culture is exciting and wonderful and the people love that you are an outsider and they have the opportunity to show you around their world. It’s great. And then the second stage sets in after about two or three months.
The negotiation stage: People don’t understand your hand gestures and laugh when you stumble over your words. You can’t find boxed macaroni and cheese and for some reason no one has ever heard of tap water. Life sucks. You miss your bed, your dog, and hell, you even miss the stupid commercials on television that made you sing along. You have seen behind the curtain of this new culture and it’s not as shiny as you thought.
Thankfully, this doesn’t last all that long. Next, is the adjustment stage. You realize you have memorized your bus schedule and know where to find a good cup of desperately needed coffee after school. You can understand and mimic the slang your friends speak and find that you can’t quite remember what your bed smells like because your bed is the one you have been sleeping in for the past few months. You’re on your way and you feel confident that soon you’ll actually be able to understand this dang dialect (maybe).
Lastly, and this is what sucks for exchange students, is the mastery stage. It hits all at once. Maybe you were sitting on the bus after school, just watching the cars zoom by. Or grabbing a chocolate bar in a Müller during lunch. Or perhaps you were sitting in your favorite cafe writing an essay for school when the waiter brought you a peppermint tea you didn’t order and a free slice of cake. But it hits you. This is your new culture. You’re a part of it. No longer trying to master the hand gestures and the innuendos. You are there, baby.
And then you realize you’re leaving. And soon. You have just mastered climbing the great fucking wall of China and someone tells you that it doesn’t matter. You’re going home soon. The year is almost over and you are just getting started. You have found yourself in a whole new country and love being a part of this new culture when BAM you’re packing your bag and getting on a plane back home. But it’s no longer home because you just were home! It’s a mindfuck. And it’s worst for exchange students, because we see it coming. We know it’s going to happen. Heck, in the beginning, we were wishing for it. And now, we’ll do anything to stay.
Culture shock sucks.