Posted by: Jason | December 17, 2009

A Curious Lack of Culture Shock

Before I left to start my study abroad term I did some research about the customs and culture of Germany so that I would be more acclimated to the country after arriving. However, I saw all these articles about culture shock and how people can often become depressed or resentful of the country they are visiting. This wasn’t the most comforting of information to read, but I was confident that my culture shock would wear off quite quickly and not hinder my enjoyment of this experience. Well, after almost four months in Europe I can safely say that I haven’t experienced the type of culture shock that I had previously read about. Sure there are some things that are done differently here that I may find strange, but I wasn’t confronted by anything that I couldn’t handle.

People say that culture shock usually stems from the language barrier because accomplishing simple tasks now becomes quite difficult when you can’t understand someone else or be understood by them. Fortunately for me, my German language skills were up to the task of accomplishing many of the tasks I came across here such as ordering at restaurants, asking for directions, buying tickets at the train station or other things at a store, and handling the administrative things for the University and the city of Mannheim (one thing that I found strange is that you must register and deregister with the government whenever you move into and out of a city). If things ever got out of control or I couldn’t understand what was being said to me, the person I was interacting with usually spoke enough English for us to communicate. Although, one time in France I was trying to get to the Louvre and I asked someone in the subway if they spoke English. When they said no I knew I was in trouble because I spoke practically no French (I did study it in high school, but don’t remember much). That conversation basically consisted of me saying Louvre over and over again until the person understood me and told me the correct subway line to take.

I think the lack of my culture shock in Europe comes from the fact that I haven’t fully been engrossed into the life of a typical German citizen. As a student, my transition here was made much easier through the help I received at the University and because of the other exchange students and German students who could help me when I needed it. I’ve come to realize that although there are some differences between the way we live our lives, the German way of life is not all that different from the one I have back in the US. I believe our similarities in this matter also contributed to the lack of culture shock that I experienced. Perhaps I wasn’t here long enough to really become truly immersed in the culture or maybe I didn’t experience the major differences between our cultures, but I’ve learned that pretty much any situation can be overcome just by continuously exposing yourself to it and learning from your mistakes. Now that my time here is almost over, I look back on everything I’ve accomplished and am quite pleased at how many countries and cities I’ve visited, while also doing well on my exams. With my return to the US looming in the near future, I’m curious to know if I’ll experience the other phenomenon that I had read about before my departure… reverse culture shock. This is a picture of my dorm room. I had a roommate, but he moved out a week ago to travel before heading back to school in Canada.

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