Confronting College Culture Shock

There is a typhoon raging outside my window right now.  The rain is darting sideways and the wind is blowing so hard it sounds like cars are racing by. Even with an umbrella, to go outside is to get soaked through.  Something is rattling violently, which is fairly disconcerting. This is just one example of the many new experiences I've been lucky enough to have during my summer abroad.

I am currently living in Tokyo, Japan, and I'm about a month into my stay.  So far I have learned several things, like: what it's like to be a sardine (thanks to morning rush hour trains); US convenience stores are not living up to their potential; and you can sell anything in a vending machine.  

My experiences have led to new, exciting questions such as: how can you tell if a man is sexually harassing you on the train if everyone is pancaked together?  what is AKB48 and why are there not 48 of them? and do you have to take your pants all the way off to use a squat toilet?

But enough about me. What does my study abroad experience have to do with you, the reader?  The new student, about to step foot on IU's hallowed ground for the first time as a full-fledged member of our community?  Well, it seems to me that we're not so different, you and I, and what I am going through here, as a new member of the Ota-ku community, is fairly comparable to what you have in store.

When I was a senior in high school, one of my older friends described college as a place where students get to make the rules.  We youths set the limits, formulate the society, and basically create a culture all our own.  Matriculating, then, parallels assimilating.  You must learn to integrate into a new culture, one that is perhaps entirely different from what you're used to.  

Just like studying abroad, you will go through several phases:

There will be a honeymoon period, when everything is wonderful.  You're loving trying new things, meeting new people, and being exposed to new thoughts and opinions.  You're excited and it shows.

Then you will experience culture shock.  You may go through periods of malaise as you try to get through your feelings of alienation and helplessness.  Perhaps your work starts to pile up, and it seems impossible that you will ever figure out this "college" thing.  If home is close, you'll be tempted to visit frequently.

Slowly but surely, you'll work your way out of that feeling.  You'll start calling your dorm room "home," and you'll have weekly "family dinners" with the kids down the hall.  The campus starts to become yours, and you feel justified as a true Indiana Hoosier.  You've got a handle on the culture and traditions.  You blend in with the native population.

Following this stage, you visit home and experience reverse culture shock.  What was once familiar and comfortable is foreign and awkward.  Your family dynamic feels weird, and your old room doesn't feel like home anymore even though all of your old posters are still on the walls.  It's like you're driving on the wrong side of the road.

As you work your way through these stages--and believe me, you will some way or another--you will be tempted to do everything just because it's new.  Even if you know you will hate it and be angry at yourself later.  It is a very strange phenomenon.

For example, did you know there is a thing called melon soda?  Well, there is, and it is bright green.  Sure, it sounds delicious and fun.  Melons are great and bright green foods are even better.  Unfortunately, it is one of the more disgusting beverages.  I figured this out after taking just one sip, yet I continue to order it at restaurants.  Perhaps it is the cute little picture they have on the menu confusing me into thinking that this time it will be delicious and I won't regret it all, but I think the more likely explanation is this:  I see the words "melon soda" and my brain immediately registers that this is something new, unique, and unavailable in the US.  So of course, my next thought is "I must drink this immediately!"  


Certain things about college life will feel the same way, especially for your first couple of months.  And like my melon soda, you should try new things!  But unlike my experience, don't keep doing new things just because you couldn't do them at home.  Be aware of your motivations.  Are you doing something because you genuinely enjoy it, or are you doing it just because you can?  If your answer is the latter, then maybe you should stop doing it.  

And remember, you have at least four years to do new things.  You don't have to knock everything out in your first week.

Okay, cool.  Glad we had this talk.

About The Author