Lessons of Culture Shock

When you imagine your study abroad experience unfolding, you never imagine the drawbacks, the low points…you never imagine that culture shock will happen to you. I am here to tell you that you’re wrong. Listen to Professor Udo Fluck in the Pre-Departure Seminar course, because you will probably go through just about every stage of the Cultural Adjustment curve… Because, if you don’t, you should probably wonder what went wrong.

The first month I was in Greece, I sank into a very dark place. About $400 was stolen from my gym locker, I left a brand new LG Android phone in a taxi, and I was feeling very degraded as a woman, constantly being harassed as I walked to school. Not to mention the fact that every time I went to Carrefour (the grocery store down the block) I was left in an annoying state of perplexity, unable to ask the employees for help to find that jar of peanut butter that I desperately NEEDED. It seemed my only friend in this situation was google translate. At one point, all I wanted was to book the next flight home to Missoula. I felt that in Missoula I would be safe. I could avoid all these potentially threatening situations and no one could take anything more from me. I also felt that I didn’t deserve this opportunity, nor the unconditional love I was shown by my parents. I went to bed every night filled with mindless regret; wondering what life-changing opportunity I could have used that money to finance; or, what quality pictures I could have taken with my fancy new phone. I tried to cut down on money for food, and wouldn’t let myself do anything I considered ‘fun’ for the next month or so.

After considerable time, it began to dawn on me, after the consolation from my parents, new friends, and support circle in Greece. These were all things that I had lost, and I could get them all back if I wanted. However, what I could not get back is the time and memories I was wasting in a country that I may never return to, with friends that I may never see again. I needed to cut myself a break and think pragmatically. When I returned to Montana, I would simply work that much harder to earn the money I had lost and I would live at home to cut down on spending. Beyond that, I had to take a hard look at my values. Anas told me something one day. He said that, “there will be times in your life where you may have nothing, and there will be times in your life where you may have everything. Don’t worry about the times you have nothing, because the point is that you will never truly have nothing in life. It’s all about perspective.” Not only was I letting my mistakes define me, but I was also letting temporary, material things come in the way of experiences and friends that might last a lifetime. I realized a valuable life lesson that day-one that will stay with me for a lifetime. Money and material items are temporary entities that come in the way of happiness. And furthermore, the obstacles I will inevitably encounter in another culture are a good thing. Culture shock sets off an internal transformation of sorts which forced me to realize the value and emptiness of money, and establish faith in my own unconditional worth and ability to persevere.

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