Before leaving on my exchange year, I was told that if I took one thing from our Oreintation Seminars it should be that "Culture Shock is real and you will experience it." However, due to the excitement about moving to a new country or maybe just pure naivete, I brushed this off. I thought that I was a resilient, adaptable, and aware person and therefore immune to Culture Shock. Naturally I was wrong, while these qualities might be true, I now know that no one is immune to Culture Shock, as it is inevitable when you are experiencing something new. Now I am almost 6 weeks into my exchange and the honeymoon period has slowly worn off. I am settling into my German life and as the initial excitement fades a bit, I find myself more exhausted and frustrated at times. I wanted to write this blog post not as an ode to the hardships but a way of validating these newfound feelings for myself and the exchange students to come.
I want to first say that I am so grateful for the opportunity that CBYX has given me and I wouldn't change my experiences because they have helped me grow as a person both inwardly and outwardly. However, I would be doing future applicants a disservice if I only showcased the highs of exchange and didn't discuss the lows. What I am saying is not meant to dissuade potential applicants or make them fearful of exchange but I think its important to be honest as when (not if) they experience Culture Shock, they will know that they are not alone because every exchange student, me included, feels this way at some point during their time abroad. We are all human and humans can't be prepared for every twist and turn that life brings and a year abroad is no different, its just life in a different place.
It can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly the symptoms of Culture Shock are, as it manifests in different ways for everybody but I can give you some tips that have helped me face it. First, talk to yourself. Try checking in with yourself and saying things like "I felt uncomfortable during class today because I tried to answer a question and I made a german mistake." And give yourself Bathroom Mirror peptalks saying "Yeah! I made a german mistake and that's ok because I'm learning a completely new language and that's a difficult thing to do! Go me!" Second, take baby steps. Zoom into each moment and don't worry about what's next. Trust me, I know this is easier said than done but if you base your focus on the task at hand and do your best to push away thoughts of what's to come, the things that first seemed insurmountable become much more manageable. Last and certaintly the most important, commend yourself for trying. What you are doing is hard, exchange is hard, some days can feel futile but it will get better. Praise yourself everyday, even if it's just for getting out of bed and going to school. You are incredibly resilient and brave, adjusting can be difficult sometimes but be proud of your progress and celebrate every correct sentence, every time you remember to bring your sport clothes for Gym class, every time you order at a restaurant. These small triumphs are what you must hold on to.
If exchange has taught me anything so far it's the importance in recognizing the little things. You don't need to win the lottery to be celebrated. You are trying and that is more than enough.
Until next time,