Autoethnography of my Cultural Exchange to the Netherlands and other travels

I have always wanted to travel, even from a young age, I was quite independent. In primary school, I started to get bullied and I wanted to go and live with my Aunty in New Zealand, this started my passion for wanting to live elsewhere which led me to student exchange research. When I was 15, my first overseas trip was to New Zealand for my cousin’s wedding. Since then travel has become a big part of my life, and I venture out of home every 6 months for the last few years.

Within 6 months of attending my cousin’s wedding in New Zealand, I was on my way to the Netherlands for Student Exchange and had my 16th birthday there a few weeks into my stay. I lived in Eindhoven which is a city in the south of the Netherlands, and this is where my new family of 4, became a family of 5.  I chose to go to the Netherlands because this is where my heritage lies. My dad’s parents immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands in 1957. I always found my heritage fascinating and I wanted to reconnect with other family members that were there as well. My Opa (Grandfather) was sick and passed away a month before I flew out, this was another reason I chose the Netherlands. When I finished year 12, I went back to see my host family and see more of my real family. One year later (November 2015), I found myself in New Zealand again, recovering from a terrible break-up. 6 months later (June, 2016), I was on an aeroplane to the USA to live in New Jersey for 2 months while I worked as a soccer coach on Summer Camps. 6 months after returning from the USA, I went to India for 3 weeks with Girl Guides where I travelled and volunteered my time in a women’s refuge (December – January 2016/2017). Winter of 2017, I found myself a job in the Snowy Mountains at Thredbo where I worked as a children’s program assistant for 2 months during the University break.  Another 6 months later, at the end of 2017 and the start of 2018, I found myself in London and back in the Netherlands for Christmas and New Years with my host family.

All these travel experiences bring me to today, where I write this autoethnography, reflecting and understanding my experiences in a greater depth. Throughout my travel experiences, I have experienced different types of shock – culture, language, role and identity. In each of my travel experiences, I made voluntary transitions into the cultures as a temporary sojourner (those who are exposed to a new environment for a short period of time), a tourist (staying abroad for short period of time to sight-see), or as an expatriate (individuals that engage in employment abroad) (Jackson J, 2014, pp. 183 – 184).  Each day of travelling presented new challenges and differences that I had to overcome to make the most of the experience. Throughout this autoethnography, I will share specific examples of culture shock and intercultural experiences that have shaped who I am today.

Culture shock “refers to the disorientation that many anthropologists often experience when entering a new culture to do field work” (Jackson J, 2014, p. 190). Goldstein and Keller (2015), defines a more simplistic definition stating “culture shock is the process of initial adjustment to an unfamiliar environment” and “the term can be used to describe the emotional, psychological, behavioural, cognitive and physiological impact of the adjustment process on the individual” (p. 188). 15826017_1458859364138629_1993925150899130690_nCulture shock was definitely something that I experienced when I landed in the Netherlands and America but India had the greatest impact of all. As I stepped out of the airport, my senses went into overdrive, the smells were not pleasant, and the sounds were foreign, loud, repetitive and irritating – I knew I wasn’t at home anymore. All my senses throughout the whole trip were heightened and it was exhausting by the end. I remember specifically being picked up from New Delhi International Airport late at night. We were greeted by our host at the terminal and walked out of the airport to find the bus that was going to take us to our hotel. The driving style of zipping in and out, not having lanes, people just walking in the middle of the road and screeching horns every two seconds was incredible. I was naturally shocked and frightened worrying about crashing and dying or that someone was going to open the back doors and steal our bags. This is only one example from my India trip where I felt out of place and shocked by the different culture. 15940870_1472050009486231_7060662925383916168_nEven though I had done a lot of research on India and spoken to many people who have been there before, nothing was going to prepare me for the rapid change in culture. Goldstein and Keller (2015) recognise that there are internal causes of culture shock which relates to identity confusion and poor stress management as well as external causes which are more common. They are the physical aspects such as language differences, communication difficulties and the physical surroundings. Since having experienced culture shock to a whole new level it has opened me up to new experiences and has shaped my personality and the way I see the world.

Munoz (2013) wrote a blog called “5 reasons why experiencing culture shock is good for you” and states that the best way to overcome overwhelming situations is to embrace the “opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely new culture, and then emerge as a global citizen”.

Munoz (2013), “5 reasons why experiencing culture shock is good for you” are:

  1. It will shape your personality
  2. It forces you to adapt
  3. Your circle of friends will expand
  4. You’ll never be afraid of culture shock again
  5. It will teach you valuable lessons

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I feel as though I had done this when I was in the Netherlands. I embraced every opportunity that was given to me, I learnt the language, went to school and even got a Dutch ID card. Some might say that I embraced the culture too much when I put on 18kg. Leaving the Netherlands was harder than leaving Australia because I had friends who actually liked me and I had built a completely new identity that I was finally happy with. This is identified by Jackson (2014), as assimilation, ‘where one does not retain their original cultural identity… instead, they seek close interaction with the host culture and adopt cultural values, traditions and norms of the new society’ (p. 188).  I adopted the transportation culture of riding a bike everywhere, even if it was pouring with rain, I would ride my bike to school like it was nothing, and then stand under the heaters for 15 minutes while I dried off and got warm again. To assist with assimilation and learning of the language, I undertook a second Dutch class instead of German and I took an English class, as well as the usual, history, geography, sport, and art. It wasn’t easy learning in a new language, but I assimilated quickly by studying extra hard so that I could communicate successfully.

Because I had assimilated to the Dutch culture, it was extremely hard to return to Australia. This is where I experienced reverse culture shock. Reverse culture shock focuses “on the stresses and challenges associated with moving back to one’s own home culture after one has sojourned or lived in another cultural environment” (Presbitero, 2016, p. 29). The culture shock of returning home was so hard, that I became severely depressed: I would only speak Dutch and I would call the Netherlands ‘home’. Presbitero (2016), also showed through research that with minimal support for returning students, they are more likely to be impacted by psychological and sociocultural aspects of their return home. He also states that individuals are more likely to feel that their overall life satisfaction and coping with the day-to-day stresses of social life is lowered (p. 29). Cornell University (nd.), recognises that reverse culture shock can be difficult in 5 ways; boredom and restlessness, reverse homesickness, no one wants to hear, relationships have changed and identity issues. I experienced all these feelings when I returned home. I would drink secretly after school, home didn’t feel like home, no one wanted to listen to the stories I wanted to share, my friendship circle at school had changed and I didn’t know who I was anymore.

The U-curve theory addresses the ‘honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment and mastery’ stages. Gullahorn and Gullahorn created the W-curve in 1963 expanding on the U-curve which assesses the re-entry of an individual into their home culture. Pritchard (2011), says that culture shock can be more difficult in returning to your own country and can often take up to 6 – 24 months to readjust as the traveller has acquired new experiences, attitudes and coping styles. Jackson (2014), recognises the W-curve model and says that struggles can come from missing ‘their independent lifestyle and friends made abroad, and [they] find it difficult to fit back into the rhythm of local life’ (p. 207). It took a good 6-18 months to settle back into school and home and to feel like me again, but even when I had re-settled, I knew that a part of me was still in the Netherlands.

Wcurve
https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c56075.ht

Since reflecting upon my experiences and learning about intercultural communication, I have been able to process the struggles that I was faced with throughout my return to Australia after studying abroad in the Netherlands and other holidays. Culture shock is always going to happen when you travel somewhere new because you’re exploring a foreign environment that you are not used to. Reverse culture shock for me is always going to happen when I return home from my travels as I always immerse and assimilate myself into the cultures that I am exploring to the best of my ability – which makes returning home difficult. Reflecting on this has allowed me to be more open with my mental health and understand that reverse culture shock is real.

References:

Allison, P Davis-Berman, J Berman, Dene., 2012, Changes in Latitude, changes in attitude: Analysis of the effects of reverse culture shock – a study of students returning from youth expeditions, Leisure Studies, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 487 – 503.

Goldstein S, Keller S, 2015, U.S College students’ lay theories of culture shock, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 47, pp. 187 – 194.

Jackson J, 2014, Introducing Language and Intercultural communication, edn. 1,  Routledge, Oxon, pp. 180 – 213.

Munoz D, 2013, 5 reasons why experiencing culture shock is good for you, last viewed 25 May 2018, <https://www.vergemagazine.com/work-abroad/blogs/980-5-reasons-why-experiencing-culture-shock-is-good-for-you.html>.

Presbitero A, 2016, Culture shock and reverse culture shock: The moderating role of cultural intelligence in international students’ adaptation, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 53, pp. 28-38.

Pritchard R, 2011, Re-entry Trauma: Asian Re-integration After Study in the West, Journal of Studies in International Education, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 93 – 111.

Smith B, Yang W, 2017, Learning Outcomes in an Interdisciplinary Study Abroad Program: Developing a Global Perspective, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Vol. 109, no. 1, p. 43 – 50.

US Department of State, (n.d.), Reverse Culture Shock: the challenges of returning home, US Department of State Diplomacy in Action, last viewed 28 May 2018, <https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c56075.htm>.

Wu A, LaBrack B, (n.d.), Re-entry and reverse culture shock, Cornell University, last viewed 28 May 2018, <https://www.cuabroad.cornell.edu/_customtags/ct_FileRetrieve.cfm?File_ID=0E0673704F7A707272720105731F7505797C1B0C0578776B02737677700200007177057207060771>.

 

 

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Home Doesn’t Feel Like Home

Since returning home from The Netherlands and my other travels and having met amazing people, it has been hard to stay in contact. It was easy at first, we both would make time to chat and also be missing each other, but as time went on, our lives continued and we became so busy that it was months between conversations, and even then, the time zones were hard to deal with because you would be going to bed as they were waking up, so between my sleepy eyes and their tired waking eyes, it was hard to hold a conversation.

Relationships defiantly changed, I didn’t have the same friendship group when I returned to high school for my senior year, the connections I thought I made with my friends back home while I was away weren’t what they seemed. I had changed, I grew up, matured, while some friends seemed to still be immature and stuck in their own world. It was frustrating, all I wanted to do was spend time with friends, or have a decent conversation while I struggled with being home, but I couldn’t. This struggle made me connect with friends from overseas more. In this sense, I made other friends and connected with other people, which allowed me to open up.

I’ve been home for about 5 years now from the Netherlands, and I still speak to my host family. Very rarely, but we still catch up from time to time. My friends from the Netherlands don’t contact me much, but I always see what they are up to on Facebook, so it’s nice to a degree to still have those connections.

I’ve been back from the States for a couple of months now and I keep in contact with some my colleagues on a monthly/odd basis. Facebook and Snapchat keeps me updated with what people are up to, so there isn’t much to talk about when you do strike a conversation. When I head back to the States I know relationships will definitely have changed. One friend has had a baby since I left, I love Facebook and Instagram for this reason – being able to see pictures.

I think it’s clear to see that communication across time zones is difficult for some as they have to adjust to time differences when contacting friends and family from home. From experience relationships will always change because as you travel and experience different things from around the world, the people you left behind stay the same.

Click here to see Charlotte’s hopes of communicating with friends from abroad after returning home.

BCM240 Project Proposal

Getting ideas for a research project is not easy unless you get talking and researching and thinking about what you have previously done.

In my subject BCM210 last semester I conducted research to do with Studying Abroad and how student experiences can be both positive and negative during and also upon their return. As I have completed lots of research previously on studying abroad and student exchange, I wish to continue this study.

While learning about students in my tutorial I discovered that there was a student (Charlotte) from the USA that lives very close to where I was based over in the states working on summer camps as a soccer coach. We soon connected to build a working friendship which has allowed us to pair up for Task 3 researching studying abroad and how students can get the most out of their experiences while studying abroad. We want to look at the geographics of how students connect and engage with others while on exchange and how they connect with friends and family back home. Charlotte and I have spent lots of time brainstorming, creating and scratching many ideas to present and expand our research. Charlotte and I will collaborate together while gathering primary and secondary research and information from other exchange students at UOW as well as online.

From discussing our strengths and weaknesses, we will be presenting our information via wordpress with a category allowing you to select what type of section you would like to read into about exchange.

We hope to blog on the following topics expand our own and others knowledge of studying abroad: How we use media to deal with the geographical space between home and our host country. This proposal lead to multiple sub blog posts topics that we can research into and talk about with students. They are;

  • How you deal with time zones
  • How do you connect to home (social media, Skype, different apps and apps that do/don’t work)-link to descriptions/videos of how apps work
  • Who you contact and how relationships have changed

 

As well as these topics we will also include posts about our own experiences and find academic articles to help with expressing these views. Being able to talk to other students as well that are currently on exchange will help with the research, thus we will endeavour to get some thoughts from other students dealing with the emotions of it all.

Interviews will be conducted and recorded which would allow for Charlotte and I to reflect back on these while producing our work. It should be considered that we could do a film recording for one of our blogs as this is another platform that would be very useful in sharing the experiences of students. This still needs to be discussed.

Sharing these experiences will help students dealing with any problems they may be experiencing also which we should be conscious of although I feel that this is going to be a positive learning experience for Charlotte and myself along with the students involved.

Carpe Diem!

Beautiful canals of Amsterdam
                     Beautiful canals of Amsterdam

  Student Exchange – 2011-2012 – The Netherlands.

International education and cultural competence – one of the best things you will do in your live, but yet, hardly anyone will. There’s concerns and difficulties as to why people don’t go and live another world for a little while, and while all is okay, they don’t know what they are missing out on.

Volg and Kell, 2007, spoke about the concerns and difficulties for international students. Some things that were mentioned were:

  • Safety and security
  • Housing and employment
  • Transportation
  • Visa and Migration issues
  • Financial difficulties
  • Loneliness and separation
  • Adjusting issues

As a 15 year old, I struggled with most issues that were spoken about in Volg and Kell’s reading this week – let me take you on an adventure.

I was 15 years old, boarding an airplane to Dubai, yes it was sad leaving my parents, but once I composed myself on my 18 hour flight, everything was looking up, free movies, food, and plenty of time to rest and dream about all the possibilities I was about to encounter. From Dubai to Amsterdam, I touched down, only to find that you could walk straight through customs with no problem, and even though the security guard looks scary, you should still go through the correct gate because otherwise you lose you host family for an hour until you eventually just sit next to the information desk waiting for someone to ask for you. As soon as I met my host family, I knew that this was going to be the best 6 months of my life. Although I was worried because Google told me that the city I was going to be living in was the city with the highest crime rate. I was ready to experience it at all costs, because I wasn’t under mum’s wing anymore, I was a free bird, still being protected though (which helps considering I’m only 15).

Days went by, jet-lag went away slowly and school was starting, I remember sitting in the big school hall for the first time, I was introduced, I sat by myself and all of a sudden I felt hundreds of eyes on me. There was a group of girls I noticed, they were wayyyy too enthusiastic and I was like okayyy, don’t make friends with the crazy girls – let me be a spoiler, they turned out to be my BESTEST friends and they supported me and allowed me to experience life just like they live.

Time went by, I had my birthday, Halloween, Christmas, New Years, school exams, I joined Scouts and a youth group and all the rest. By the time I knew it, it was time to come home, and although it was harder leaving The Netherlands and not Australia, I knew it was time. Things started to become real and I had my cousins wedding to attend to. The next thing I knew, I was at the airport with my host family and all of my class mates that I had spent the last 6 months with.

My intercultural experience was extreme, I was prepared to take the risks and explore the world, try new things. The girls and boys in my class, along with the beautiful teachers, family and friends invested so much time into my experience wanting to make it the most special one there could have been. Even though I went over knowing only 3 words of Dutch, the language barrier did not stop me from taking a chance in life. While I was there, I also connected with my blood family and was able to connect with my heritage and ancestry.

Mind you, it is important to keep in mind that not all exchange trips are just like the one I have told. Some aren’t as fun, you might not get along with the family or you might have no friends at school – but hey, at least they could say they did it. I met people just like this from Belgium and Australia and not everything was smooth sailing. I say to anyone and everyone – while you have the chance, seize the moment, go and live and do what you need to do before you get tired down and it stops you from doing it.

Marginson (2012) spoke about cultural competence which made me relate this to my exchange experience. It made me motivated, empathetic, flexible, understanding, compassionate, and the fun bubbly person that I once was. Years down the track I still talk to my family and best friends like there was no goodbye and I will forever cherish them in my heart.

I have since returned to The Netherlands and although people have moved on with their lives and the world has gone around, my cultural experience along with this great international educational experience will forever be in my heart.

It’s the best thing I have ever done, and I am sure it will be the best for any other person that does it.

Carpe Diem.

For an understanding of Australian curriculum and intercultural understanding you can access this: http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/GeneralCapabilities/Pdf/Intercultural-understanding

References:

Kell and Volg, 2007, International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes, last accessed; 13 August, 2015.

Marginson, S, 2012, International Education as Self-information, last accessed; 14 August, 2015.