From Jet Lag to Bomber, An exchange student’s view

What is so unique about the Americans and why do we even get culture shock?

Nuria Zysk, writer

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After jetlag, there comes culture shock, they told me. But can there be such a significant difference between the two cultures that you are going through a shock? The moment I stepped out of the airplane in Dallas I realized that there is.

A culture shock has four stages and includes a lot of ups and downs. The one I am in, after being here for a week, is the honeymoon phase. You are basically in love with the new culture and all the fun new things you can try out. Those can be the small things, like entering the big magical Walmart or eating American candy for the first time. Speaking English on a regular basis is like a dream come true and it seems like you are the most popular person in school. 

But after that comes the Negotiation phase and that seems to ruin everything.

During that time you start to get homesick, you realize that not everything is great and you are starting to miss home. Most exchange students are talking about the way Americans eat. I am shocked about how much trash I make, my ecological footstep has never been bigger. Don’t get me wrong, food delivery exists in Germany and we get take out occasionally but there is not a McDonalds, Taco Bell or an Olive Garden on every corner. If we would not cook at home we would go out and eat there, but no one would leave home to come back with the cooked dinner. You start missing a good traditional meal from your home country.

For me it’s not just going to another country and culture, it is also going from Berlin, a big city, to Mountain Home, a small town. In Berlin, I used to be so independent, even without a license and now that I’m here I can’t go anywhere without using the car. 

“ Here they don’t usually cook so much and the food is more industrialized”, Oriana (exchange student from Brazil, in the US for one week)

But you get used to it. With some things, it takes longer, with others it only takes a day. Adjusting to another culture can be hard and may take a while, but most exchange students reach the adjustment phase after 6 months. That is the time when you start forming a routine and you are getting used to everyday life in the new culture. The final stage you reach is the Adaption phase. From that time on, time flies by. Months feel like weeks and suddenly you are going back home. 

  “In Spain we appreciate the food we eat. Here everything is either pizza, hamburgers or sandwiches.”, Olivia (exchange student from Spain, in the US for 6 months)

But after living in a different country and adopting a new culture, coming back isn’t always easy. There is an actual thing called reverse culture shock. It isn’t as hard as a normal culture shock, but you are going through the same stages and may experience similar feelings.

But after all, it is worth it to go through a little bit of shock to have the best experience and to bring great memories back home. Also after being in another country and culture, you start appreciating your own food, culture, and country for things you didn’t even recognize before.