Anyone who has studied abroad has heard warnings of culture shock! These didn’t really apply to me so much for my study abroad experience. I felt quite at home from the start. . .but that’s not to say I’ve never went through culture shock. That’s why I can’t just describe my semester abroad by itself but need to also reflect on my first time living in Germany. So let me tell you about the extreme differences in what I experienced. . .
When I went to Germany after high school in 2005, I was convinced I wouldn’t have culture shock—or if I did it would be so mild that I would barely even notice it. Of course we had several discussions about it in trainings as well as being told that the first three months would be very difficult, the next three would be better, and the last three would be fantastic. For my 18-year-old-I-think-I-know-everything-about-everything-self, this all went in one ear and out the other. Well, three and a half weeks of crying myself to sleep later, I had realized that my transition wasn’t going to be as easy as I had thought. But as I gave it time the 3-3-3 model seemed to play out like clockwork and by the end of my exchange I couldn’t imagine my life outside of Germany.
Because I had reacted so strongly the first time I was abroad, I wasn’t sure how things would be the second time around. I remained open to whatever feelings I had, especially because of the huge difference in how I thought I would react the first time and how I actually did feel.
With this study abroad trip, it was completely different. I felt a huge sense of “finally, back to my second home” as soon as I arrived! While other struggled with why things were done a certain way, why the water was carbonated, why the garbage was sorted, or why someone made such-and-such comment, I would simply respond (either internally or aloud) “This is Germany! That’s how they do it here!” In that regard, I felt no culture shock. Even with the language—it was a joy to be speaking German again!
In fact, as I was there I kept waiting for things to sink in. . . I kept waiting for that “WOW, I’m in Germany!” realization to be big and overwhelming as it had been the first time. This never came. It was almost disconcerting how normal everything felt (if that makes sense. . . ).
Naturally throughout the semester I would have occasional “I CANNOT STAND HOW THEY (fill in the blank with any number of things)!!”—moments, but I think that’s only natural. I missed my friends and family at home, too. . . especially with the communication difficulties I had because of internet limits and the time difference. But this is all part of the experience and came and went as one would expect.