[1]During the descent into Detroit Metro Airport, five weeks after my excited and nervous departure, I couldn’t help but notice a huge amount of winding pavement that cluttered the land below me. I peered out the tiny oval window, desperately searching for the small white fluff of sheep, rolling hills and intense green landscape, a view that I had grown accustomed to for close to two months. Instead, huge sport utility vehicles had replaced sheep, and enormous freeways were in the place of luscious countryside. My mouth dropped in bewilderment of the scene before me. How could this be home?
World traveling is no longer reserved for Christopher Columbus, Louis and Clark and Captain Cook. An increasing number of college-age students are finding themselves halfway around the world, surrounded by strange and wonderful people, food, music and mind-boggling sights. And it is here that these scholarly 20-something’s are discovering foreign and exciting cultures nestled in far away villages, hiking the Swiss Alps or even amongst fluffy sheep.
Culture shock is the most popular term for this overwhelming feeling of unfamiliarity. The majority of these young world-travelers are bombarded with this scary and somewhat uncomfortable feeling—not just upon arriving to a new land but when returning home. Perhaps culture shock is the most jarring when returning because you can find yourself changed in ways you never imagined, and that you don’t want to return to the life you were living.
“It is impossible not to have culture shock,” said Tolga Yaprak, who studied in the Netherlands the summer of 2004. “It was only hard for me because I wanted to stay in the Dutch culture. There was just so many small things that added up and affected me as a whole.”
For Yaprak, the cultural difference was most strong when it came to women. He was blown away by how independent they were. “There is no difference between females and males, especially with wages,” Yaprak said. “And women are seen in the middle of the night walking alone, without any fears.” Yaprak found it refreshing, and yet, at the same time, it made him realize how backward America is.
“It is like our country is a little boy in a man’s body,” Yaprak said. “Although legally women have equal rights, the mindsets of the people are still stuck in the 1950s.” Yaprak noted that although the Unites States is a powerful and large country, we aren’t exactly ethically, morally or culturally on top.
The international business junior also enjoyed the Netherlanders sense of responsibility to other fellow Dutchmen. “I really noticed the compromising nature of the citizens,” Yaprak said. “They all looked out for each other.” Yaprak is just one of the many MSU students who have capitalized on the learning experience of leaving his comfort zone, and came away from it with a new perspective on the world he lives in.
[3] Amelia Zukowski, a communications junior, became aware of an increased respect when abroad as an intern in Australia spring semester 2005. “No one talked on the cell phone in public places,” said Zukowski, who also took a side trip to Thailand. “And if they did, it was quiet. They just weren’t as obnoxious – Australians have more respect for people in public areas. American’s like the sound of their own voices.”
Zukowski also noted how happy the Australians seemed in comparison to the people at home. At the TV studio she worked at, summer vacation spanned three months. “Australians definitely have the ‘no worries’ philosophy,” Zukowski said. “I could show up a half hour late and it was fine. Comparable to Americans, they get more holiday time and maternity leave. They don’t get paid as much, but their balance in life is a lot more in check.”
Zukowski was overwhelmed and excited about the culture there, but she felt that there would be more of a shock if there was a language barrier. As she assimilated to her surroundings during her five-month stay “down under,” she became aware of its differences with America. It really hit home when, on a ten-day stay in Thailand, an elephant leisurely strolled down one of the main streets as she was walking back from dinner. A Thai man sat atop, and waved as he passed.
“All other cultures are superior to the American culture,” said Zukowski, who has also traveled throughout Europe. “Other parts of the world have been able to preserve their society’s cultural identity, while the Western mind is constantly kicking out the old and bringing in the new. Every year we see construction barrels on our roads, while Europe is using roads from the 1600s.”
I, like many, was the young Spartan who was terrified of an expanse of mysterious knowledge that awaited me “out there.”
From June 16 through July 23 I participated in MSU’s Reporting in the British Isles study abroad program. And everyday I wrote in a journal documenting my travels. Looking back on them, I remember how completely different it is in Europe, and how unlike my life today is compared with how it was then, and there. The culture, the day-to-day lifestyle, the food, the people, and most especially, the aesthetic qualities are missed daily, and were hard to rid myself of upon my return to the States.
July 7, 2005
Wonderful day – today is the day for the Wicklow tour. Known as
the “Garden of Ireland,” it was by far the most beautiful piece of
scenery that I have seen on this trip. We went so high up and on
such little, narrow streets – it was frightening as well as breathtaking!
Many associate “culture shock” with a lack of familiarity, such as traveling beyond your comfort zone and into an area that is foreign. For me, and for many who take the journey, it was quite the opposite. I was leaving a completely different country and was to be greeted by friends, family and loved ones in my own home. Yet, for days after my return, I expressed the “telltale signs” of culture shock, like frustration and intense sadness. Even as I celebrated my 21st birthday, just a day after my arrival, I found myself feigning smiles, forcing laughter and daydreaming of sheep, castles and waterfalls.
Memories will never fade for these world-travelers. If it isn’t the image of an elephant strolling through downtown or a woman trekking through the dim-lit streets without protective mace, it is that unforgettable moment where everything in life just seemed to stand still, when you realize that you aren’t at home, and maybe you don’t want to be.

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