Series: My Semester at Sea: Culture Shock: Get Over It
By Chanel Watson
Once you have been surrounded by ones culture, you are no longer vulnerable to your surroundings. Culture is not something you should be shocked about or afraid of, it is something to indulge in and appreciate so you can get over your fears.
Many people miss out on the opportunity to study abroad because they are scared of a new normal. When I say the new normal, I am speaking in terms of learning someone else’s normalcies and everyday lifestyles that are different from yours.
In the United States, we have dinner around 6 or 7 p.m.; in Greece, they don’t have dinner until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.. In Spain, Futbol (or Soccer as us Americans like to call it) is their number one sport. If you don’t believe me, attend a Barcelona soccer game, the crowd alone will definitely keep you on your toes. However, back home Americans enjoy baseball, basketball and football.
The change in pace is very invigorating once you get into the swing of things. The first day in a new country is always going to be intimidating. At every port I have stopped in the same questions go through my mind. “Am I dressed the part, or do I look like a tourist? Am I in the dangerous area? Should I ask for help? Where is the wifi? How do I ask for the bathroom? Are Black people able to catch a taxi?” You will walk around confused, you do look like a tourist, and you are not the only one who does not know where they are going.
Learning the characteristics and mannerisms of a country are the most important things to look out for during your first day of exploration. Locals in different countries have a certain demeanor about them that you just have to get used to. Don’t be alarmed when you go to Italy and they may have an aggressiveness about them. When you go to Croatia, they are naturally bold and direct when they speak to you. These people are not afraid to tell you when you are wrong or when you are wasting their time. However, in every country I have gone to so far, politeness and patience always gets you on a local’s good side.
Another thing you should be prepared to do is learn the native language. Even if you are struggling over the words, locals are definitely going to laugh a little at you, but then help you get on your way because they appreciate you taking the time out to learn how to say the words, or streets correctly.
From my experience so far, I am definitely inspired to go back home and learn Spanish…again. In Italy, Greece, Croatia and Spain the natives knew how to speak some level of Spanish; almost as if it were their second language. In Greece, my seven friends and I went to a restaurant and we could not understand what the owner and waiter were saying to us. However my friend started speaking Spanish and both the waiter and owner understood her and spoke it also. Because of her, instead of receiving individual meals, we learned that it was cheaper to get a full Greek dinner that was more than enough for the eight of us to share. The Spanish also came in handy when it was time to shop and we received special discounts, or when we were able to go to the clubs and skip the lines.
If you do think of study abroad, I encourage people to get over the fear of messing up or looking foolish in a country. You are there to learn a new culture, and you can’t learn without making some mistakes. So what if you mispronounce a word, skip a step in a traditional dance or dislike a food? It is all a part of the experience. It will be different than what you are used to, and that will be the adventure of it all.