The last thing I ever thought I would do was pack up and move to another country for a year. Even after nearly two months in Freiburg, Germany I still have my moments of disbelief. Two months seem like nearly a lifetime but it also feels like it has gone by in a blur (and for that reason I am glad I have been keeping a journal). Truth be told two months is not that much time in another country, especially since I have nine more months ahead of me. It definitely has not been enough time to get linguistically comfortable, or culturally for that matter.
I honestly think that nothing could have prepared me for the experiences I’ve had since I arrived, but that’s why they call it culture shock, right? Although, I think it really took about a month and a half for the true culture shock to start setting in, at least the difficult part of it. The ‘honeymoon period’ of the first six weeks was wonderful. All of the experiences were new and exciting. The culture just seemed so interesting, especially all of the differences. The people were endlessly fascinating.
Unfortunately, culture shock doesn’t always seem this positive. Although there is no place in the world I’d rather be studying than Germany, it is definitely difficult at times. The culture begins to become less romanticized. At times I find myself upset at how ‘cold’ the people here can seem at times, but I’ve learned that the most important thing is to put my experiences into cultural contexts. When the cashier at the grocery store doesn’t ask how my day is and rushes me through the process it isn’t because she is trying to be rude; it’s simply because Germans highly value their time whereas Americans tend to be more comfortable with a slower pace.
Things can and will be difficult when spending such a long time away from your friends, family and home country, but studying abroad has already been the most rewarding experience of my college career. I have found so many opportunities to be involved with the culture and society here in Freiburg. These opportunities not only give me a chance to become a better speaker, but they also get me out of my room and into the real world, something that I’ve discovered really combats homesickness and culture shock well. From my experiences so far, getting integrated into the culture is the only way to truly start to understand it. When you have relationships with the people in your host country they can become a wealth of information and support. I am very lucky that I have been able to experience this trip with my study abroad group. The coordinator, resident director and the other American students, as well as the German friends I’ve made so far, are always there when things get difficult or confusing.
Well, back to the books!
- The Stages of Culture Shock (usinedinb.wordpress.com)