The Ups and Downs of Adapting to a New Language and Culture
The USA Abroad! series is a look at the experiences of Americans who are having an international student experience in Europe.
The past few weeks I have felt euphoric in my position as an abroad student in Paris. Before coming here, I attended a mandatory meeting at my home university. The meeting included words of advice in all realms, from political, cultural, and economic aspects. The one thing that really stuck out to me during this meeting was the description of culture shock and the waves that initiate and follow it. Initially when I was listening I immediately took myself out of the equation of feeling any of the emotions the advisor described.
What culture shock feels like
For background, she described it as a rollercoaster of sorts. You start off numbed with a sense of euphoria and overstimulation. You are experiencing so many new things through every sense, and your body is overwhelmed. Therefore, you are not really registering what's going on.
Once this honeymoon phase of sorts dissolves, you come to the realization of where you are. Then the rollercoaster embarks on its journey downward. Negative emotions set in as there is now room for them. Then the descent subsides to an even straight line. You get used to your surroundings, have a somewhat familiar routine, and finally have a sense of placement in your new environment.
This is when the true belonging and euphoria sets in, in my opinion. This is the place that I am currently at, but I want to debrief on my experience with each level of culture shock and how I coped with it.
Before my time abroad, I was nervous, but I never had any debilitating anxiety. I am a naturally anxious person who struggles with anxiety from time to time, so I was surprised by the lack of fear I had. This was an indication to me that I was doing the right thing and going to the right place, as my body was not fighting it.
I subconsciously limited a lot of expectations, which I think aided me in my pursuits. I didn’t over-prepare for my journey, but I was definitely not under-prepared. I did everything on my own with limited help from my parents and arrived at the airport.
My time on the culture shock rollercoaster
My first week in Paris felt like a vacation. Not in the relaxing trip to the spa type of way, but in the “I don't have any real responsibilities and I can do what I want” type of way. Once I settled and school started, it started to feel more real, but it all felt like a foggy dream.
I cannot pinpoint exactly when the switch flipped, but I do remember a Sunday in January when I felt a bit depressed. I felt isolated and unfamiliar with myself. I think that was the biggest adjustment in my culture shock. I was unconsciously adjusting to my surroundings and maturing. The exponential growth that happened in just a few weeks made my mind feel foreign and untapped.
This, of course, was not permanent. As the weeks continued and I traveled to Berlin and London, I grew accustomed to my new way of life and my new way of thinking. I think now I am even more like myself than I was at my home university. I think this is because I have an ever-present control over my surroundings here. As most students do.
How I feel now
Finding yourself in a foreign place is a psychological journey. It's confusing and frustrating, but results in maximum personal growth. I feel exponentially different than I did during my first week in Paris. I see more clearly and as I walk down the street, I display an aura of confidence. It can be hard to detach from your place at your home university, especially after creating a family like friend group who, in my case, resides in beautiful Southern California.
But the choice to study abroad exposes a young adult to the constant change that comes with life. It has matured me in ways I cannot explain, and no matter how I spend my days here in Paris, I am getting closer to the person I have always dreamed of being just by immersing myself in a culture that is foreign to me.
Take a look at Alena Nitti's Adventures in Paris: A Day in the Life of a U.S. Student Abroad.
|Alena Nitti is a communications studies major and a creative and cultural industries minor with a focus on fashion and media at Chapman University in Orange, CA. She is currently abroad in Paris studying fashion for the spring semester. Alena has an affinity for fashion, vintage clothes, photography, and writing.|
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