Tips to Avoid Culture Shock
Culture shock is never easy to grasp. We come from different backgrounds, regions, countries and ethnic groups.
We have been raised differently, having been acquainted with different concepts and lifestyles, taking part in different projects, and connecting with other people or peers.
That is why taking part in Erasmus+ Programme is not only a life-changing experience but also an adventure demanding from us an ability to overcome obstacles linked with people. A chance to observe different societies in their “natural habitat”. To see ourselves. To change, adapt, confront our views and stereotypes.
What is the better way to know what surprised Erasmus+ students during their exchanges if not by asking them directly? Therefore, I asked a couple of people coming from unrelated countries, having been on Erasmus+ exchange, what were the things that caused some kind of culture shock experience to them and how they dealt with them.
Zivile from Lithuania, who is now doing an exchange in Lisbon, Portugal, claimed that the vast majority of restaurants and bars are closed from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. - in Baltic countries people do not do so, therefore she had to get used to it. Moreover, people can drink outside, unlike in Lithuania, where the law is far more strict than in Portugal regarding drinking policy. Continuing the topic of alcohol, it is not even a tiny bit of a problem, if a person drives after a beer or a small glass of wine there - this is because, the blood alcohol content in Portugal is 0,5 promilles, and in Lithuania, it is 0,0 promille!
What is more, meals were also a little bit strange for her as well, especially when it came to eating rice and fries on one plate. Double carbohydrates’ source on one plate? Why not!
However, what shocked her the most, was a little bias that she carried from Lithuania - namely, that Portuguese are like Spaniards. She witnessed it strongly especially during the COVID-19 outbreak - people follow the rules, even though these are strict. ‘Just like in my home country” - she admits.
Amadeusz from Poland, who also has been in Lisbon for an exchange, underlines that the connection between the student and the academic teacher is far less formal in Portugal “They treat you as a partner, not as a petitioner, and that is really cool” - he admitted. Moreover, he noticed a difference between how the elderly treat the youth in Portugal compared to Poland. He admitted that, in this particular case, in Portugal, older people treat youngsters more as partners and not apprentices. “It may be due to the difference of political systems throughout the years. Or maybe we just lack the sun”.
Coming from warm Portugal to colder North - Mariusz from Poland, who has been an Erasmus+ student in Trondheim, Norway, claimed: “Firstly, I read a book about Norway, it gave me a little knowledge and prepared me for my upcoming adventure. In the end many things were really as described there!”. What he stressed, was more practical:
“Be prepared for the weather conditions - Norway is a costly country. You do not want to spend too much money on things, I could easily bring from home. Bring some vitamin D with yourself, it is really needed there, because of the lack of sun.”
What shocked him the most was the level of English of locals and the system used at university. “Well, everyone spoke English. Literally - youth, elderly, white collars, blue collars. No matter where you are, you never get lost if you yourself can speak English. Also, what I found interesting is that the university has its own examination building - only for this purpose! However, the terms are strict e.g. I studied Power Engineering, so I needed a calculator for the exam. Nevertheless, I could use only one of five models that were accepted by the university. If any other would have been used, I had been expelled from the exam immediately!”
Last but not least, Julia from Germany wrote me about her culture shock experienced from a place not so far from her own country - Poland, Kraków “What I would recommend as the first thing for those willing to avoid culture shock is to learn some basic phrases in the local language - it really helped me to navigate in the city. Moreover, just obey the rules there - I found it strange that you cannot drink in Poland outside - but of course, you will find some hacks to do everything.”
She insisted on integration with locals: “Join a local sports club, team, connect with the local section of ESN - life is so much easier after that and you will never feel like a stranger afterwards!”
What she found interesting is that locals can also help really much with university issues “In Germany, there is one way of doing things at university and, Heaven forbid, if you do otherwise! But in Poland, you can think out of the box, do something another way, which may create a little bit of confusion in the beginning, but with the help of locals - everything runs smoothly”.
Culture shock is a thing, the majority of us experienced, experiences and will experience during our life. Fortunately, there are people willing to help in overcoming it and if you want, you will find a way to live in every place in the world. Maybe you will even start calling this place home?