Post Study Abroad: Shock and Awe

Ryan Dondalski
May 26, 2018
Pudong Skyline at Night

Hello! So it’s been a little over two weeks since my return from China, and thankfully I have acclimated relatively quickly. I suppose that might sound silly, considering I’ve lived in America my entire life, but spending that amount of time in another country certainly results in a lifestyle which you, to a certain degree, forgo when you return. My return to America has allowed me to reflect more on my time abroad and my experience, and how such a momentous experience has affected my perspective and even my habits in both countries.

I think that it is safe to say that I have noticed a small amount of reverse culture shock in my return home, where in China the extent of my culture shock mostly fell on the first night, when my phone could not work and I felt quite scared and uncomfortable that I was not going to make it to the apartment, even with someone there to pick me up. But following that episode, I fell right in and started absorbing. I think that a combination of my friends/classmates’ support and adventurous spirit, along with the guidance of my teachers and instructors, certainly made this transition much smoother. In addition, prior to my departure from America, I knew how different China and the US are. In fact, that was a factor in my decision to go there. I wanted to live in a place unlike anywhere I had ever lived before: in a big city in a vastly different culture from that of my own. And Shanghai fits both of those descriptions quite well. With that mindset, I was able to transition more effectively and with less fearfulness. However, when returning to America, I did not do such prep work. In addition to a quick turnaround from finals week to takeoff, it would seem silly to prepare for cultural re-adjustment in a country that I had lived in for my entire life.

But this was rather arrogant. The habits and lifestyle I had come to know in Shanghai was about to change significantly, just as my habits and lifestyle in America had three and a half months prior. I’d say one of the first things I noticed when I arrived back was just the language. And again, you may think, “Duh!” And you would certainly be right. But even though this was obvious and I understood that I wouldn’t be speaking or hearing Chinese often in my daily life, the shift was nonetheless jarring. In many of my interactions that were service-oriented, like ordering a lunch, or talking with the front desk assistant at the hospital, I just wanted to speak Chinese! In order to fill this language gap, I’ve started practicing using language apps on my phone, but it still is not quite the same. I also noticed, in relation to notice, that I had become what I would say is “comfortable in the chaos” of living in China. As a non-fluent Chinese speaker, there were many a situation where I wouldn’t have a full or even a slight understanding of what was going on, and so I would simply just figure things out or go with the flow. But, back in the States, I’m a native speaker, and as a result don’t have any excuse for not knowing what is going on. So now, instead of letting things figure themselves out, I’ve noticed how much more I am always paying attention to what is going on, which I find sometimes somewhat stressful.

The causes of reverse culture shock may seem trivial, and I suppose they are, but make sure to be prepared for them. After having spent so much time living in a different country, I found that many of the small, trivial aspects of my life were the aspects that changed after I arrived home, and thus the ones that required some re-adjustment on my part.

Regardless of the weird ways that I’ve had to re-adjust to my own country, it almost goes without saying how phenomenal of an experience studying abroad has been. Being able to immerse myself for an extended period of time in the rich and historic culture of China has been so memorable and wonderful it almost seems like a dream. There are probably no two words that better sum up my experience (or my blog posts) than adventure and gratitude, and indeed I must say, again, how grateful I am for this adventure that has been studying abroad. Thank you for reading, and good luck on your own adventure!

Ryan Dondalski

<p>My name is Ryan Dondalski, and I am a Mechanical Engineering major at the University of Tulsa. I love automobiles, building things, and most of all, people! I hope you'll find my posts enlightening, and thank you for stopping by!</p>

2018 Spring
Home University:
University of Tulsa
Fullerton, CA
Engineering - General
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