NIETO-MUNOZ: During travels, culture shock can bring hidden surprises
Opinions Column: Views from the 39
Studying abroad is an experience. One can learn about themselves, the language and meet new people, but one of the most important things you can do while living in another country for four to six months is learning about a new culture. Although living in the United States gives people the opportunity to become more well-rounded and to know more about some cultures, experiencing it first hand is completely different than an Americanized family, or even just studying it from a textbook.
The minute you land in a new country to study abroad, your daily routine changes and becomes unfamiliar. Gooverseas.com defines this as a culture shock: “The process of recognizing, understanding and adapting to these changes.”
This culture shock is a part of studying abroad, but the best part is when you accept the culture and become able to come out of that experience more knowledgeable about a new country.
There are four basic stages to culture shock: the honeymoon stage, the negotiation stage, the adjustment stage and the mastery stage, according to gooverseas.com. These all differ from student to student, but I assure you, they will happen and are part of the experience.
The honeymoon stage is exactly what it sounds like. The excitement of leaving Rutgers and going off to a new country is overwhelming, and after days and months of researching, you know exactly what you want to do and you’re pretty sure everything is going to go perfect. Shortly thereafter, you’ll realize things are a lot different. One of the first things I noticed is that Italians aren’t as friendly as Americans. I got lost my second day here, and even when I asked the cops how far away I was from my house, they kind of just brushed me off. You'll realize how disorganized things are: people are always late, servers will take 10 minutes to greet your table and you’ll start to compare how things are so much better back home.
Eventually you start to realize adjusting is a part of the process. After this, you'll become adapted to the way this new society works. You’ll have a new routine, new activities and maybe even take on the habits of some locals. I know that I can’t go a day without my "latte macchiato," just like my host mother.
This culture shock might sound terrible, but a lot of good things come out of it. For me, I was able to learn many new things about my host culture that I could not have learned from a textbook, a guidebook or even from someone who had already lived there, because the experience is different for everyone.
Ferrara is a town where there are more bikes than cars, which means I actually have to ride a bike to go to school if I don’t want to wake up 40 minutes early to get to the school center. I was really annoyed by this, because the last time I even picked up the dusty bike that’s sitting in the back of my shed was to take it to Cape May when I was 14, and I don’t even think I used it then. Not only do the locals bike everywhere here, but there is no organization to it. No bike lanes, no “stay to the right” logic, you just have to try your best to see where the biker is headed and if they’re going to move out of your way, or if you’re going to have to move out of his or her way. This was pretty cool my first week because I figured I’ll lose a lot of weight, ride my bike all the time and totally look like a local. As you can figure out, I was extremely wrong. I would just stop in the middle of the street if I thought someone wasn’t going to go around me or I couldn’t figure out if the pedestrian was going to go to the right or the left. I’ve even fallen off multiple times, though everyone in my program has fallen at least once, in my defense. After a month of riding my bike, I’ve gotten used to it: I’m better at following the traffic signals, knowing whether to stay on the right or left and I haven’t fallen off in a while. Progress is everything.
As a result of this culture shock, I also took a lot of walks to take my mind off of things. By doing this, I found a really amazing coffee shop that a lot of locals go to, and my friends and I even found this old abandoned church. Without the culture shock, I probably wouldn’t have gone out looking for things to do to take my mind off of missing my friends and disliking the way things work here.
Although culture shock can make you wish you were home, there is nothing like living in a new country and being able to call it home. You also learn a thing or two about how to be as cool as a cucumber when you fall in the middle of the shopping center and everyone stares at you. But hey, that’s a part of the experience.
Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is currently studying abroad in Italy through CIEE. Her column, “Views from the +39” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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