Opinion & Commentary

Culture Shocks

by Maram Sharif

image via SmugMug Galleries

Culture shock is a common experience that people who move from one city or country to another go through. It is often categorized by feelings of confusion, disorientation, or stress resulting from an unfamiliarity with the new environment that a person is being exposed to. While some have an easier time adjusting to foreign surroundings, culture shock is something that everyone experiences regardless of how adaptable they are. 

International students make up 20% of the student body at the Frederick Gunn School, coming from different parts of the world. Though The Frederick Gunn School continuously makes an effort to make the school’s environment inclusive and feel like home for everyone, we were still curious to find out how our international students felt once they settled in the United States and what culture shocks they have experienced. We interviewed three students from three different countries and here are what they said:

From Russia, Sophia Kapkova: 

“When I first came to the U.S. I definitely noticed how open and nice everyone was. Although it’s changing now, a few years back if a person in Russia would smile at you on the street or wish you a good day, it would be considered strange and people would probably ignore you. Overall, I feel like Americans are more open about everything. I still remember my first class in an American school. It was very different from what I was used to because it was mainly discussion based, and opinions that differed from your teacher’s were not only allowed but encouraged. Which was very different from classes in my old middle school in Russia.”

Sophia also mentioned that since she lived in New York, she was also “definitely shocked with how fast paced everything was.” 

She adds: “We also don’t have Amazon in Russia, so it was shocking to me that you could order almost anything from there, and it would be at your doorstep the next day. Overall, the U.S. is very different from Russia, but I’m glad I get to see and experience the American culture. I love it now and definitely miss some American aspects in Russia.”

From China, Yoyo Zhang:

“The only culture shock I experienced is the stereotype Americans usually have about Asians. People thought I was a nerd and antisocial my freshman year because I was trying to adapt to the culture so it made it harder to make friends.”

She adds: “Another thing was that sports is such a big part of the culture, unlike China where it’s mostly  focused on academics.” I remember joining cross country during my freshman year, and I was always the last one in practice because I was so slow; so Mr. Small was always chasing me and the other two Chinese students with his car to make sure we were not slacking off, which was embarrassing. Overall, I’d say the Frederick Gunn School is an encouraging environment, so now I just endure the embarrassment.”

From Bahrain, Sayed Alalawi:

“Personally, the biggest cultural shock I faced coming to the U.S. was food. In the Middle East, our food mainly consists of spiced rice, meat, and other stuff full of fat, which is hardly found in the US. Due to this, alongside other religious reasons, I relied on a vegetarian diet for the whole fall term, which was somewhat dull compared to the food found in Bahrain, which made me lose some pounds, at least according to what three people told me when I returned home.”

As it can be seen, people experience culture shock in different ways. It is important to acknowledge this shock, process one’s feelings, and then take an action to figure out how one can best adjust to the new environment. Life is full of challenges and with a positive attitude and a good mindset, one can tackle any challenge that comes their way. As members of a community, we should collectively do our best to make new members feel welcome and help them through their transition by even the smallest gestures. 

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