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New Horizons: Coming to grips with ‘culture shock’

Danielle Clarke shares her experiences in Germany as a Rotary Exchange student.

The dictionary defines “culture shock” as experiencing feelings of disorientation as a result of suddenly being subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Having been told that I would undergo culture shock during my Rotary youth exchange year to Germany, I did what I could to lessen its intensity.

Before I arrived, I read about the German way of life on the Internet in hopes of gaining a better understanding and therefore minimizing its shock.

However, once I arrived I quickly learned the difference between preparing myself for culture shock and actually experiencing it.

Take learning how to swim for example. Beginning in Level 1, each proceeding level builds on to what has already learned. It is these small, steady progressions that make learning how to swim a seemingly comfortable task.

On the other hand, experiencing culture shock occurs in quite the opposite manner and is better compared to being thrown into the deep-end before even knowing how to swim.

One would also not know where to begin but at the same time would know that trying is the only way to survive.

With that being said you can better understand the magnitude of the term culture shock.

After being in Germany for almost six months I have definitely moved passed the “shock” side of things but am continuing to learn more about their culture everyday.

For me the first and most obvious cultural differences were seen within German meals.

With three meals a day plus a coffee break the day begins with a breakfast that is similar to a Canadian lunch and is followed by a large lunch which similar to a Canadian dinner.

The breakfast table is full of assorted meats and cheeses often eaten with fresh bread, whereas lunch is similar to a Canadian dinner because it is the warm and most filling meal of the day.

After lunch there is frequently a coffee break served with an assortment of cookies and cakes. This pause during the day upon my arrival was something I had to get used too.

At first, like almost everything, it was unfamiliar to me I thought of it as slightly disruptive but over time it has been worked into my daily routine and now I look forward to it everyday.

Because lunch followed shortly by coffee is so substantial, dinner is normally something small such as a piece of bread or toast.

Not only did I have to get used to the different foods and mealtimes, eating in Germany is generally a family affair and therefore at first I felt as if I were an infant.

This is because I could sit at the table with everyone and have six different conversations go by with little to no clue what they were about.

As a result I began to read body language and gestures until I had a better grasp on the language.

Through my contact and experiences with German people, I find Germans to be very friendly, practical, punctual, and formal people.

Due to my better understanding of the language I believe the formality of their character is a result of their language.

Quite literally translated lots of the common phrases used within German are very respectable and precise; this is clarified to me by my enrolment in two separate German courses in my school.

The school system in Germany is also something specific to touch on.

In Germany classes are set at what I would call a high education standard and students are divided into schools depending on what they want to be at a much younger age than in Canada.

As for free time activities several Germans use their holidays to travel.

This is because transportation in Europe is easily accessed through train, car, plane, bike or boat and is fairly inexpensive if planned in advance because of how geographically close everything in Europe is.

What I have learned however is that more than one hour by car to a German person is considered a fairly long journey, which is obviously something I had to try and get used to; but, even now after almost six months of living here I am not sure if I will ever be able to.

Needless to say I have happily accepted that as something that will always make me a Canadian.

In short with just over six months left, I look forward to seeing what other new occurrences and traditions lie ahead.

With that in mind, I would like to pass along another thank you to the Trail Rotary Club for making this entire experience possible for me because with every opportunity I am beginning to become a reflection of not just one but two cultures.

Danielle Clarke was a J.L. Crowe Secondary work experience student at the Trail Times last year and is currently in Germany as a Rotary Exchange student.