Culture Shock: Going through actual culture shock

A beautiful, sunny day in Prague. Annie Cappetta // Contributing Photographer

Culture Shock is a blog that analyzes the experiences, from awkward to awe-inspiring, of moving abroad for a semester as junior Annie Cappetta studies in the Czech Republic.

Before departing for a semester in another country, the study abroad office makes students go through certain modules so we understand any responsibilities and risks associated with our programs. One such module was a presentation about health, with a slide for mental health that read, “It is not unusual for visitors in a foreign country to experience loneliness, homesickness, and culture shock. These feelings should be temporary; if your difficulties continue, you should seek help.”

At the in-person orientation, a staff member at the counseling center was brought in to explain to us the four stages of cultural adjustment: initial excitement, irritation, adjustment and adaptation. We college students, of course, turned this into a go-to sarcastic mechanism for peer pressure: “If you don’t come out tonight, you’re definitely culture shook,” or “If you don’t travel this weekend, you’ll get culture shock.”

But I really did miss home. The frustration hit me for the first time about a month ago, after being confined to my room with a nasty virus from weeks of constant travel and sleep deprivation. I didn’t quite change my routine; I still spoke to my friends and family from home often enough but not too often to keep me stuck thinking about them.

It wasn’t a particular person, food, place, comfort or way of living that I missed. It was this quiet, dull ache that just got louder and made me more on edge. Every little “social-snafu,” as we refer to awkward cross-cultural communication, piled up to put me in a state of feeling consistently out of place.

All I wanted to do was be at home, the place I feel most safe, with the people I love the most. No matter what assurances people give you about the conveniences of modern communication technology, nothing substitutes being in the same room with family and friends.

I knew I was being unreasonable, and it was just a matter of time before I’d be back home doing the same thing, wishing I was abroad again to explore new cities every weekend with a stellar group of people.

Then, one morning, I had a good talk with a friend here about nothing in particular, but for some reason it made me appreciate the people I’ve met and relationships I’ve built here. I walked outside, and the sun was shining for the first time in weeks. I decided to walk home, taking the long way and bopping along to Chance the Rapper instead of the emo acoustic music I had been stuck on all week.

And I snapped out of it.

That night I cooked up a special dinner for my friends here, something I love to do, instead of lamenting that there’s only one broken pot and a spoon in the kitchen, making most of my favorite kitchen projects impossible.

I’ve mostly shaken off social snafus or avoided them altogether. I spend less time studying and lounging in the dorm during the week and put more effort into making plans to explore hidden parts of Prague.

I love being here, but sometimes that quiet ache wants to throb for a few days. I realized that I probably had culture shock when I came to Miami from my small, quintessentially Midwestern suburb of Chicago. The best protection I have found is to make sure to keep doing what I love. Forget obstacles and practice conscious gratitude for all the moments of beauty that you couldn’t experience anywhere else.