Taking the Edge Off of Culture Shock


August 9, 2011
by Mariah Proctor

When you’re preparing to study abroad, the images that illustrate your anticipation are the ones that you’d find on postcards. You have romantic images of sunsets and famous buildings but you often neglect the mundane – the Dumpsters, the traffic, the bathrooms. You fail to realize that your study abroad will see you taking on a new place in its entirety and those routine, everyday things are not only present but are done differently than back home. That moment of ‘that’s not how you’re supposed to do that’ or ‘the people here are so _____’ is called culture shock; take the edge off by anticipating its inevitable arrival.

When you’re preparing to study abroad, the images that illustrate your anticipation are the ones that you’d find on postcards. You have romantic images of sunsets and famous buildings but you often neglect the mundane – the Dumpsters, the traffic, the bathrooms. You fail to realize that your study abroad will see you taking on a new place in its entirety and those routine, everyday things are not only present but are done differently than back home. That moment of ‘that’s not how you’re supposed to do that’ or ‘the people here are so _____’ is called culture shock; take the edge off by anticipating its inevitable arrival.

There’s an emotional sequence that one experiences sojourning in a foreign land. You arrive, buzzing with the anticipation and gleefully jet lagged. Everything is still new and exciting at this point but after the novelty wears off, a sinking feeling that most don’t expect kicks in. You feel overwhelmed and overstimulated, you start to develop anxiety if you are not filling every moment with something new and valuable and, most of all, those little quirks of daily life that aren’t at all like your home life stop being charming and start being annoying. It’s obnoxious that the shower and the toilet are in two separate rooms and the people here seem determined not to smile or laugh and find it a nuisance when you do. Everyone is so quiet and punctual, not like your loud, late family back home.

Though you’ll try to stave off that sour phase for as long as possible, it will come. You will get homesick and things will not be as you’re used to. Then there will come a day when you suddenly realize that you’ve fallen in love with your new home; you didn’t even feel it getting under your skin but suddenly, you’re hooked. It’s also usually at that same time that you’re scheduled to leave.

Studying abroad is not an adventure every minute and it’s a lot harder than the recruitment people at your school will ever let on...but oh the delight in finding you love a place that at one time you’d only dreamt of visiting.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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