62 more days left in Berlin and it isn’t anywhere near enough. As I sit here desperately trying to cling to the grains of time that are passing me by, I can’t help but feel a deep sadness for what is to come. After 7 months of living in Berlin, I’ve succeeded in accomplishing my goal—to create my own little life for myself.
Unfortunately, I’ve been so successful at creating my own little life in Berlin that it’s now not so little, and it breaks my heart a bit as I realize that it is quickly coming to an end. The result of my efforts in Berlin has crafted treasured friendships, a beautiful relationship, and fluency at C1 level German. Gone are the days where I feel lost in this city, both literally but also in a more figurative sense. At first, I would lose myself just as quickly in a conversation in German as I would when riding the Bahn without my phone for navigation. Now, I can effortlessly navigate the Bahn systems and almost any interaction in German. But more importantly, I have a sense of home in the community I’ve built.
My speculation is that it is often this lack of community that results in students feeling homesick. I can confidently say that I felt homesick after 6 weeks in Berlin, but fast forward to the present and now I feel a different type of homesickness. I feel homesick for the present. I have this pit in my stomach and this stone weighing on my heart because I know that this beautiful, little life that I have created in Berlin will end. I have utterly fallen in love with this city.
Yet, this experience, while simultaneously beautiful and painful, is one that less than 2% of college students will have the opportunity to seek for themselves. According to NAFSA, only 1.6% of all college students in the U.S. studied abroad for the 2016-17 academic year (I don’t have data for how many students study abroad for a full academic year but I’m sure it’s even less). Of the 1.6% of students who do study abroad, only 10.2% are Hispanic/Latino American which makes my experience abroad particularly rare.
If you can take anything away from this blog, I hope it’s a sense of curiosity. Dare to dream what a semester or two of your college-experience would look like abroad. What kind of little life can you craft for yourself? Will you be heartbroken to leave, or eagerly awaiting the flight back home? You can’t know until you go find out for yourself.
One thing I wish I had known before I studied abroad was that culture shock can happen to anyone, even if you think you are familiar with the culture.
The program that I participated in took me to Alexandria, Egypt where I completed an intensive third year Arabic language program. The faculty member in charge of the program and his program chaperons were very informative. They were helpful about how to navigate daily life in Egypt and what to be aware of in regards to cultural interactions. Although, there was one thing that was not covered, and that was how to deal with culture shock.
The stages of culture shock are:
Initial Euphoria/Honeymoon Stage
Irritation and Hostility/ The Negotiation Stage
Gradual Understanding/ The Adjustment Stage
Adaptation or Bi-culturalism/ The Mastery Stage
I definitely experienced each of these phases despite the fact I was already knew what to expect with the culture of the Middle East. Here are some suggestions of how to curb culture shock in each stage:
Learn as much about the culture as possible:
Whether or not you have familiarity with a culture, there is always more to learn and explore.
Ask study abroad coordinators for advice
If you have a study abroad coordinator that is very familiar with your program location, ask them questions about what to expect. They are a wealth of resources to prepare for housing, travel, and daily social interactions.
Write down what you love when you first arrive, and look back later
Journaling is always a good for the mind and soul. This is a good way to release stress and remember joyful events. Writing down positive experiences can help when you have rough days and need to remember what you love about your programs location.
Talk to other students about how you feel
If you have other students on your study abroad program, communicate with them about your experiences
Push yourself to make local friends
Do not isolate yourself and try to stay social. Reach out to local students and make new friends and connections. This will help you in becoming more familiar with your surroundings and feelings of loneliness.
Try to see things through host culture’s eye
If you disagree or do not appreciate something from your host culture, take a step back and look through their eyes. There is always a reason for culturalisms.