Before going abroad, one of the terms you hear thrown around the most is “culture shock.” Put simply, culture shock is just your realization that you are in a culture different than the one you grew up comfortable with, and you are personally affected because of that. Culture shock does not necessarily have to be negative as so many people make it seem, as there are positive realizations about different cultures that are possible to have when studying abroad. You may agree with a cultural norm that is different from back home, and you may feel that you generally fit in better with the people of another culture. Those positive realizations occur pretty regularly as you adjust to the new culture you have been transplanted to, but speaking from personal experience, negative culture shock hits a lot harder and a lot more suddenly.
I’m currently in Tokyo. Simply saying that immediately gives you a pretty true image of what type of surroundings I interact with on a daily basis here. People, buildings, people, buildings, people, trains, and people make up the visual stimuli I am presented with regularly. For some that might be great, for some that might be just like home, and for some (like me) that might be interesting and new and fun…for a while. However, growing up in the smaller community that I came from in Ohio, I am used to grass, trees, and simply a lot less people. The elementary school I went to had a cow farm next to it, and on summer nights you could here the cows mooing even though my house wasn’t close to the school by any stretch of the imagination. My city was just that quiet.
I’m used to not seeing people constantly. I’m used to not having an omni-present white noise follow me wherever I go. I’m used to space. I may be beating a dead horse here, but knowing how I grew up is important in understanding exactly why the most frustrating culture shock I’ve experienced exists: every interactive stimuli I’ve been presented with recently is very new, and seemingly overnight, I went from finding it interesting to wanting immense space in between me and everything else.
This same culture shock experience has actually affected a few others in my program with similar backgrounds as me as well. That doesn’t guarantee that you will have it too when you study abroad if you came from where I came from, but just be prepared if and when it happens. Knowing that it’s a possibility helps immensely when you actually do begin to feel culture shock, because it can help you recognize what you need to do in order to help adjust to your new surroundings. My advice? Keep a clear head and take things in stride. You’ll be able to adjust a lot easier if you are self-aware and open-minded!
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Hi all! My name is Ben Krieger, and I am a rising Junior at Miami University in Oxford, OH. I grew up in the Cleveland area as an aspiring professional football player, but clearly that is a path that I've abandoned because I'll be in Japan during my first season away from the game in fourteen years! I'm very excited to be in Tokyo for the fall, and I've been preparing to be able to at least survive in Tokyo by studying Japanese for the first time ever in Beppu, Japan this summer. I may not be great yet, but hopefully you'll watch me grow as I blog my way through the fall program!