Upon coming abroad, I definitely expected to experience culture shock. Though some things have surprised me about German culture and I have noticed differences between American and German culture, I can say that I haven’t been hit with culture shock… at least not yet.
However, I have experienced a bit of what perhaps can be considered culture shock, but it has been with the other American students here, not with Germans. No one had prepared me for this, and maybe it’s uncommon for students to feel as though they come from a completely different culture than their American counter-parts, but I can safely say I have felt like that since being in Germany.
I have always proudly identified myself with being a southerner. I didn’t realize just how important this aspect of my life was to me until arriving in Freiburg and interacting with other the other students. I am one of two students in the program that comes from the “true” south, and this other student also goes to my college and we’ve previously had German classes together. There is also a student from Virginia and one from Florida, and I hate to say it, but those states just aren’t what most southerners consider to be the Deep South. So that leaves me and the boy from my program to be the southerners in our programs.
So what does it mean to be a southerner among northerners and Freiburgers?
For starters, it means that people here don’t really understand that anything below 60 degrees is a bit chilly for me. I typically don’t need to wear sweaters until late October and I don’t need my down jacket until around Thanksgiving. It seems completely foreign for me to have worn a sweater in mid-September. Back home, I would most definitely still be wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts, maybe even still tank tops.
It means that some people don’t eat the same food that I normally would back at home. I never quite realized how difficult it is to try and explain to someone what grits are until today. If you’re also someone who enjoys your morning with some cheese grits (sometimes mixing your scrambled eggs and bacon in, too), then you know how difficult of a task this can be. Then trying to explain that shrimp and grits are typically more of a lunch or dinner food rather than a breakfast food just adds to the difficulty of describing a somewhat indescribable regional food.
It means that some people you spend majority of your day with have never seen, or heard of for that matter, of a magnolia tree. They have never touched the thick, dark green leaves. They have never smelled the flowers when they bloom, nor do they know that sometimes the flowers can be as big as a dinner plate. They’ve never climbed the branches of one and they don’t know that they can live to be very, very old and grow to be very, very big trees. And they certainly don’t understand why your dad is partially heartbroken at the fact his magnolia in the backyard is going through a rough season and may not make it out alive (but my family remains hopeful our magnolia can make it through!).
So although it’s been a challenge to try and relate to majority of the students in my program in some respects, it’s also been such a privilege to get to share with them what southern culture is and what it means to me. It’s also been really fun to hear from them about their hometowns and cultures. If nothing else, I have realized just how much I love my roots and how blessed I am to come from the south.