Culture Shock


By Liz Nolan                
Everyone has heard the term “culture shock”. It’s a term that can have different meanings for every individual. Between food, language, transportation and ways of dressing, the “shock” can hit you at any moment, or maybe not at all.
I had my first healthy dose of this so-called “culture shock” the summer before I started high school. I had the opportunity to visit Japan as an ambassador for Sister Cities of Clearwater, FL. Clearwater’s sister city is Nagano, Japan.
So here I am, blond haired, blue eyed in a totally different world compared to home. Spending a week with the other students in my group, we visited Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and what seemed like a million other places. Visiting temples and local markets, it’s like my head was on a swivel, trying to soak in every bit of these moments.
When we visited Hiroshima though, things were different here. We were told by our group leader that it would be best if we stayed quiet during our tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, as some people may not appreciate us being here. It’s a somber experience anyway. Seeing the imprints on sidewalks where people were sitting when the bomb went off, the models of the town before and after the explosion, learning about the defects that children are still born with today because of past generation’s radiation exposure. There really isn’t anything to say, you just listen and take it all in.
Not that every place was like that. Everybody was so friendly everywhere. For many it was the first time they had seen an American person. We were stared at and stopped to take pictures with on the street. It was our “15 minutes of fame.”
The second week we were there we went to live with a host family and went to school with their sons and daughters. (This is where the culture shock really kicked in.) I had the nicest family, but the language barrier was most definitely a hurdle. They spoke very little English and I spoke exactly zero Japanese. So, I spent most of my time communicating with my family through an English to Japanese dictionary. Talk about uncomfortable. (My first night there my host “father” asked if I wanted to take a bus. A bus to where? I realized he was asking if I wanted to take a bath.)
This is where the food shock came into play as well. When I was out and about with my group I could choose what I had for dinner. I couldn’t do that in someone else’s home. I swallowed down more mushroom soups and interesting looking fish than I care to remember. I fine tuned my chopstick skills and learned to slurp with the best of them. ( I hated mushrooms and wasn’t the biggest fish eater at the time.) I can say now that I am no longer a picky eater, and I have a feeling this experience helped me to overcome that.
Now, while I was here I also went to school. In Japan, school is incredibly different than school in America. The students in Japan, and a lot of other Asian countries, go to school for more than 10 hours a day! They are responsible for cleaning the school at the end of the day, and after this many students are involved in sports or other extracurricular activities. I could barely stay awake for an 8 hour day of school at home, now I had to spend a week at a school where I would be spending more than 12 hours a day. It makes you appreciate what we have here in America, but I guess you can see why the Japanese are known to be so smart.
I had so many uncomfortable and embarrassing moments while I was there. Culture shock is very real and everyone experiences it in different ways. This was my first taste of it, and now I think it takes a lot to make me uncomfortable in certain situations. I have yet to feel like such a fish out of water as I did while I was in Japan. I would experience it ten times over though.  Culture shock opens your eyes and makes you aware that the world is so much bigger than your backyard.
As a famous man once said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” So, be uncomfortable! Embrace the shock. Eat the weird foods and talk to strangers, life isn’t fun without a little adventure. 

MaxVariety Staff

MaxVariety's Staff is comrpsied of college journalists who, despite being like minded, cover a wide array of topics.

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