In the last blog I discussed two new Erasmus projects, in particular I spoke to Luca Lo Re and Mohamad Tarhini about the site My Erasmus Life, which will enable Erasmus students to share their experiences, questions and local knowledge. However, on top of the normal student dilemmas of finding (cheap) accommodation, (cheap) restaurants and (cheap) bars, Erasmus students, along with anyone else who has ever moved abroad, will have to learn and understand a new culture.
It is hard to talk about culture differences without straying into caricatures and stereotypes. But, cultural differences do exist even between geographically close regions and it is sometimes difficult to remember that when we travel or live in a new country. These differences are the things that can make you fall in love with a place but at the same time make you feel a world away from home.
I have been living in France (originally from England) for several months now and I’m slowly learning not use the words ‘strange’ or ‘weird’. Instead I am trying to embrace the word ‘different’. (Although if I am completely honest when it comes to learning French grammar the phrases ‘ridiculous’ , ‘another bl**dy tense?’ and ‘is this language designed specifically to confuse me’ have all been uttered on several occasions).
Obviously there are many things about France and French culture that I have adapted to enthusiastically. Sometimes I ask myself how I have managed to live this long without buying a fresh baguette every day, or how I have coped with a 20 minute sandwich break (normally at my desk) when just the other side of the channel the French are having glorious 2-hour-several-course lunches. I have come to adapt to the relaxed (and in my opinion) more balanced lifestyle of the French, but perhaps even more interesting is what living in this new country has taught me about my own culture. For example, I had no idea that I am, in fact, the embodiment of Britishness when it comes to waiting in a queue.
“(underbreath) tut tut. These people are not queuing with proper queuing etiquette! The person behind me is far too close and the ones at the front are not waiting for every passenger to get off the metro before they get on…terrible”
(For those who are not fully aware of the British queuing etiquette obsession, I suggest you check out this funny website from In london Guide.)
To get a few more opinions I spoke to some other Generation Ys who shared their Culture Shock experiences…
“When I lived in the Netherlands I came to realise that the Dutch are very passionate about topics such as social issues and politics. Where I am from people are a bit more reserved in expressing their opinions on controversial topics. I thought it was pretty cool that the Dutch were more open in expressing their beliefs” Jenny (from New Zealand) in Amsterdam.
“I didn’t know that in France EVERYTHING IS SHUT ON A SUNDAY. It’s not that I disagree with that but I’m just not used to it! On one of my first Sunday’s in Nantes I had an empty cupboard so went out (admittedly, a little hungover) looking for some food… that was a tough day.” Chloe (British) in Nantes
“When I first travelled to New Zealand I was shocked by how talkative people were in the street. I grew up in the countryside and so was used to a friendly environment, but I was really surprised by how approachable everybody was. On the downside, I could never get used to the mayonnaise” Clément (French) in Wellington
“When I studied in Madrid, I met people from all over the world. It could sometimes be difficult because everyone has a different sense of humour, which I hadn’t considered before. My experience has definitely helped me to communicate more effectively with people from all over the world” Harry (British) in Madrid
If we are lucky enough to travel whether through study, work or for leisure, half the fun is finding out these new local customs yourself. However, I do think that in school I should have been taught more about cultures around the world. Obviously studying world history is important, but surely learning about modern culture is too? As flight prices decrease and the world opens up to us, surely we should be going out there with a little more understanding of the diverse and exciting range of customs and traditions that we might meet?
And if you thought that the return journey was any easier, you would be wrong. “Reverse culture shock” is also a real thing. Many people return home and have to face the stark reality of being back. Maybe things at home have changed and you feel left out, or maybe they are exactly the same (and that’s the problem). Maybe no one wants to hear you bang on about your “experiences”, or maybe they do and you miss it too much to talk about. People forget that going back home can often be as challenging as the trip itself, read this article from Forbes for some intimate stories of reverse culture shock from the people themselves. But remember, despite all the trials and tribulations it is definitely not worth missing out on that exciting cultural adventure.