Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Culture Shock

 “As you experience this new culture, you are going to encounter many differences. Remember that things may not be necessarily wrong or right—just different.”

I was sixteen years old when I heard these words of wisdom. Although it took me a long time to really believe them, these words have since changed my life forever. My junior year of high school, my family took in Andrea—a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic. Since she was only six months older than me, we became immediate friends. No, wait. Somehow, more than friends. Andy is more to me than just an “exchange student.” Andy is my sister. Aside from lacking a blood relation, Andy has become my sister in every sense of the word.

When she arrived that fall, I did not live out the advice given to me. For months, little irritations built up inside of me and compounded frustration. Natively from Eastern Europe, Andy did things in a way that was just... wrong! She wouldn't use the sheets on her bed, she made salads without any lettuce, and she would wear the same outfit two days in the row... ridiculous, I know! Irritation itched at my patience, and I just couldn't understand why she didn't do things my way—the “right way.” I would run to make the dinner salad so I could fill the bowl with lettuce before she got there. Maybe now she'll learn!

I did eventually learn patience throughout that year, but the biggest lesson was yet to come. After she returned to her home country, I found myself deeply missing her—differences and all. I went to visit her in Prague, and I lived with her family. Finally, I understood. Immersing myself into her culture revealed the truth: not wrong, just different. I have since been to the Czech Republic four times, and I can't wait to go back again. I've learned to enjoy the freshness of different traditions and lifestyles, and it's opened my eyes to the truth that the “American” way does not always equal the “right” way.

I believe that every person should step out of their own culture and deeply experience another one. Like St. Augustine said, “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

*A short story written for my nonfiction class--described as a "statement of belief" from a specific example in my life. The format is similar to that from http://www.thisibelieve.com/


  1. A lot of wisdom. Thanks for sharing!

    C Brown

  2. OOh sissy, this is so true! I can't believe how much that year has changed my life...I mean, although I still make salads without lettuce, it has changed me in a different way...It changed my way of thinking. It is exactly how you wrote that: not right, not wrong, just different! We should embrace the differences between us and stay opened to other cultures.

    I know this is going to sound like a terrible exchange student cliché, but it really was a great experience! :)


  3. Your mother should be very proud to have such an articulate and thoughtful daughter! I am going to have my own daughter read this tonight!

  4. Wow, a very interesting story. I hope to one day go to Europe--preferably England when I'm at college.