Sweden <--> Ohio: Student

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Yesterday we had a presentation by an American student who has been at Vaxjo University for a year so far and hopes to stay longer. She talked about Culture Shock in a way that I'd not realized was particularly American (blunt, short, clear, fast, almost brutally or rudely concise and colorful and dramatic in her descriptions). Her presentation covered useful information for me and reinforced things I was already doing (and warned me to watch out for other aspects of integration or disintegration).

She talked about the three phases of Culture Shock. The first is the honeymoon phase. This is when the experience is new and exciting and differences are viewed as positive and frustrations are minimized. Until yesterday evening, my honeymoon period was in full swing. I was in love with the country, the culture, the weather, and viewed all differences as 'cute' or exciting.

Then I got tired. It's exhausting to constantly adapt, to run translation filters for common words in a mother tongue (and I'm in awe of what the non-English students have to go through!), to wander blindly looking for bathrooms, coffee, or food, asking for help from strangers in all aspects of life (thankfully, Swedes as a group are SHOCKINGLY helpful and very willing to speak English to assist complete strangers). The second phase of culture shock is one of anxiety, fear, and withdrawing.

Cultural differences are viewed negatively, differences are frustrating and no longer exciting, a desire to leave may be expressed or simply a desire to spend time only with other students most like yourself (or other exchange students only). Irritability if the key characteristic I find myself expressing of this state (and lets me know that I've reached this second phase in my adjustment).

Like depression, the cure for this state is engagement. Refusing to spend time only with exchange students or North American students (there are several Canadians in addition to the American students from Chicago, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Kentucky) was something I did instinctively but will have to discipline myself about in the coming weeks. Consciously spending time and seeking out Swedish students or exchange students from other locations needs to be a forefront goal of my daily interactions.

To that end, I've found a riding stable on campus and am inquiring about employment there tomorrow (I suspect my lack of Swedish will hamper me *greatly* in this but I hope that perseverance and willingness to learn will make up for it). It is easy walking distance from my dorm, which excites me greatly.

In addition, my Swedish fadder Maria has been immensely helpful in smoothing my transition to Swedish life, answering stupid questions, obvious questions, and bringing to light some hints about unspoken Swedish cultural rules (never wearing shoes in the house is a cultural norm, but the unspoken reason for this is a national preoccupation with hygiene and cleanliness).

Gems like this give me some structure on which to hang my understanding and observations of Swedish culture.

It is my hope that in time I will reach the third stage of cultural adjustment: integration. In this stage and appreciation of cultural differences does not mean native culture is rejected and present cultural environment is accepted wholeheartedly, but that differences are noted, examined critically and accepted without value judgment. It is my (private) hope also that a greater appreciation of my own culture will be possible through this experience. Uniformly, the Swedes that I've spoken with talk positively about American culture, with the exception of politics, while also retaining an appreciation for their own culture - and it is my hope to emulate this.

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