Coming to Terms with a New Culture

The basis of Chinese society is very different from the west, so a lot stuck out to me very soon after arriving. My top three takeaways from the first few weeks of the semester are:

  1. Culture shock is inevitable to some extent- Even if you think you’re super accepting/understanding/adaptable, at least one thing will throw you a bit off, even minorly. It’s best to accept that and then work through it by reminding yourself that the world is not your way or the highway. Everyone does things differently and that’s what makes the world go round.
  2. Try new things!!!- You never know what you’ll end up liking! Whether it be a daring new food, or a thrilling new experience, you’ll never live life as an undergraduate student in another country again, so might as well make the most of it. As a formerly very picky eater, China has forced me to get over that (largely because I often don’t understand menus and don’t know exactly what I’m ordering), and I couldn’t be happier with my new status as an adventurous eater.
  3. Be open to meeting new people- This goes for both local people and students you may meet, as well as other study abroad students. A semester is such a short time in the grand scheme of a person’s life, so limiting yourself to just a small group of people is not only close-minded, but it also hinders the extent to which you can engage with your new environment.

 These realizations stemmed from some bits of culture shock that I experienced in the first few weeks. My main experiences with culture shock came from vast changes in two huge life essentials: my cellphone connection, and bathrooms.

First, my phone was a mess.  I had no data abroad, so connecting to WIFI was a must in order to do anything on my phone. However, it would. Just. Not. Connect. No matter which network I tried, nothing was happening. Multiple leaders in my program tried fixing it, but nada. That meant that I couldn’t communicate with anybody. I couldn’t text or even email my family to let them know I had arrived safely. I couldn’t use any social media to chat with friends from home. I also couldn’t receive any of the messages from people in my program about plans for the night. After many hours, we finally figured it out late that night at about 10 or 11. Then, my VPN wouldn’t connect. This meant I still couldn’t use any western social media, websites, or even Google. Accepting the difference in connectivity, has been a journey that I’m still riding out.

Second, the bathrooms in China are generally pretty different than western style. My dorm’s bathrooms don’t provide toilet paper, soap, or paper towels. Toilet paper itself is not meant to be flushed down the toilet. Rather, it’s placed in waste baskets provided in every stall. All this paired with the fact that Chinese buildings are typically unheated in the winter, I was not a happy camper when I needed to wash my face or use the toilet. In public bathrooms, these traits also all apply, in addition to the fact that squatty potties are the norm.

For both of these, I struggled with the automatic thought that the American way is better. I had to step back and just accept the situation for what it was and also acknowledge that That view was ethnocentric and limiting. Once I let that notion fade from my mind, accepting differences in everyday Chinese life became much easier! Dealing with culture shock can be a frustrating challenge, but overcoming it is extremely rewarding!

Those moments are full of polar-opposite emotions. Some of them filled me with wonder and happiness to know there’s so much in the world. Other instants made me question if I would enjoy China at all. Stepping back from the situation and realizing that

My top three takeaways from the first few weeks of the semester are:

  1. Culture shock is inevitable to some extent- Even if you think you’re super accepting.understanding/adaptable, at least one thing will throw you a bit off, even minorly. It’s best to accept that and then work through it by reminding yourself that the world is not your way or the highway. Everyone does things differently and that’s what makes the world go round.
  2. Try new things!!!- You never know what you’ll end up liking! Whether it be a daring new food, or a thrilling new experience, you’ll never experience this life as an undergraduate student in another country again, so might as well make the most of it. As a formerly veeeerrrrryy picky eater, China has forced me to get over that (largely because I often don’t understand menus and don’t know exactly what I’m ordering), and I couldn’t be happier with my new status as an adventurous eater.
  3. Be open to meeting new people- This goes for both local people and students you may meet, as well as other study abroad students. A semester is such a short time in the grand scheme of a person’s life, so limiting yourself to just a small group of people is not only close-minded, but it also hinders the extent to which you can engage with your