Culture Shock: More than a language or behavior

Eric Rowe- Staff Writer

Whether it’s drinking milk with lasagna or shouting, jumping and dancing at Praise and Worship, people’s behavior stems from their culture, and both can be shocking to anyone not prepared.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Students Without Borders hosted a discussion panel on the concept of culture shock. Exchange student Jaehwa Kim, freshman Naomi Lee, freshman Livingstone Lee and senior Nathan Ryder shared their experiences of adjusting to a different culture.

Livingstone Lee was born to Korean parents, grew up in Nigeria and went to school in Kenya before coming to Dordt, so he’s used to interacting with different cultures.

“You’re thrust into a new environment,” Lee said. “Values are buried way back. [People] don’t even know why they are doing what they are doing.”

Nathan Ryder was invited to the panel after an off-campus semester experience in Nicaragua last fall. He found western Nicaragua to be more monocultural than even Northwest Iowa. Ryder went into the experience with unique Minnesotan blood – having been born to an Australian father and Canadian mother – but he swiftly found out that he was just another American.

“I became more in touch with my Americanness,” Ryder said. “How I think is like everyone else that I grew up with.” In particular, Ryder yearned to not have to explain himself and his behavior to his Nicaraguan host family.

Your own culture isn’t something that you notice until you become shocked by some behavior or stereotype that everyone around you accepts as normal.

In South Korea, for example, it’s important to be polite to your professor. Jaehwa Kim, an exchange student from South Korea, said that being polite to professors is important in Korea, and he was surprised by the casual interaction from students here. Once, Kim was caught off-guard to see a student toss a whiteboard marker to the professor.

“I was shocked,” Kim said. “How could someone throw the marker at the professor?”

Besides witnessing weird behavior from others, culture shock is accompanied by constantly having to explain your own weird behavior to others.

For Naomi Lee, Mexico is home, but she always has to relay the story of being born in California to Korean parents and growing up in Mexico before people can make sense of that answer.

The rapidity of speech or lack thereof in Iowa versus Mexico is more shocking to Lee than a change of language. People speak slowly here, she said.

When he first came to the USA in January, Kim stayed with relatives, including a young nephew, and found it frustrating to learn English alongside someone who was learning at a much more rapid rate.

“I can’t even communicate with the baby,” Kim said.

The language barrier results in limited communication. Kim used to always answer “I’m doing alright” when people asked how he was doing, even if it wasn’t true. “I chose to pretend to be okay because I can’t explain the whole situation.”

Though language is a large part of it, culture shock is more than just a language barrier.

“You have to change who you are to feel comfortable,” Ryder said. “And that’s frustrating.”

The Students Without Borders Club plans to host several more panel discussions throughout the year to generate cultural discussion on Dordt’s campus.

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