Dealing with culture shock: It’s no place like home, but students learn to cope in a different environment

Leila Archer

On her first day in Leicester, England, senior English major Lisa Davis encountered her first issue with traveling-abroad transportation.

“My first full day in Leicester, I had to go to the store and get food and some kitchen utensils,” she said. “So I got on a bus with a group of students, and we went to the shop.”

The first bus she boarded to get back finished its route before she was home, and she had to wait for a second bus, which went right past her. By the time it was dark, a third bus had come around, but Davis did not know which stop to get off at. Not wanting to admit that she was lost, she got off at a bus stop, which turned out to be the stop that she had started at.

“I ended up calling a taxi,” she said. For the remainder of her time in Leicester, Davis mostly walked and took the train if she needed to go somewhere.

“It was usually faster for me to walk somewhere than wait for a bus,” she said.

There are many things that students need to prepare for when studying abroad, such as transportation, culture and language.

“We like to discuss culture shock,” study abroad adviser Jane Battisson said.

A cultural shock that students often face, Battisson said, is lack of American foods, which can result in homesickness.

For example, when Battison was studying abroad during her college days, she couldn’t find peanut butter at any stores, which made her miss the comforts of home.

“It took a while to get used to some of the food (in England),” Davis said. “I did all of my own grocery shopping and cooking so I could get what I wanted, but I had to know exactly what I was looking for.

“What we call cookies they call biscuits, and they’re completely different.”

Language can also be a barrier when studying abroad. For the Florence, Italy program, all of the classes are taught in English with the exception of language classes, which are taught in Italian. Study abroad adviser Judith Carroll said it is possible to study in Florence without knowing any of the native language because it is a huge tourist destination.

Classes in Geneva are also taught in English, but the locals are more formal when it comes to welcoming study abroad students. They appreciate it when students try to speak the language, Battisson said.

Lauren Heuer, sophomore art education major, will be studying in Poland during the summer. While knowing Polish is not required, Heuer said that she is going to learn some of the language before she goes.

“It was challenging ordering food at some of the restaurants,” said Elizabeth Whiteman, a junior managerial marketing major who studied in Greece. “At the smaller shops, the owners didn’t know any English.”

Additionally, all students studying abroad are required to have health insurance. It is also a good idea for them to see a doctor for a routine checkup before departing.

Students studying in Central American countries and Mexico should refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site and make sure all of their immunizations are up-to-date, Carroll said.

Carroll and Battisson agreed that students run into problems when studying abroad because they do not read the information that is provided to them.

“We try to give them the information they need without giving them too much,” Battisson said, adding that students are good at e-mailing her if they have any questions.

“It’s an experience of a lifetime,” Davis said. “It’s worth it even if you have really bad days every once in a while.”

Contact international affairs reporter Leila Archer at [email protected].