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Coming to Terms with Culture Shock

Kelly McGonigle, along with other sophomores and juniors of all majors, got a chance to expand his knowledge and experience abroad through a nine-month multi-disciplinary leadership program.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a week since I boarded the plane that would take me from Hyderabad, India to Mumbai, India and marked the first leg of my extended journey home. Nevertheless, I sincerely appreciate the amazing things I have been able to experience between then and now.

Back in April when I began planning my trip to and from India my mother brought up the fact that since being in India would put me virtually halfway across the world, it might make sense to get some other traveling out of the way on the way back to the Bay Area. After weighing our options, we finally decided on making a pair of three-day stops: first Paris and then London. At the time it seemed so far in the future that I hardly found time to consider how cool those two cities really are. That being said, seeing the Eifel Tower, the Mona Lisa, Abbey Road, and an absurd amount of other notable and interesting artifacts and buildings in just six days certainly enhanced my appreciation for European history.

Though it has been amazing to see these world-renown attractions, it has been arguably even more interesting to experience the gradual transition from life in India back to life in the United States. Rather than making that transition in one day, my first stop after India was Paris, France. In Hyderabad, being fare skinned and speaking strictly English, I stuck out like a sore thumb everywhere I went. In France, it was a little bit easier to blend in with regards to appearance, but again I plead ignorance when addressed in French. In fact, sometimes it felt like the language barrier was less so in India (English is one of India’s national languages). London was another step closer to complete ability to blend in, compared to both Hyderabad and Paris, as it wasn’t until I spoke for an extended period that I was labeled as a foreigner.

I do not bring up these experiences to imply that any of the three countries treated me poorly. In fact, not once did I feel like I was being treated unfairly because I was a foreigner – aside from rickshaw rates of course. The reason I mention these experiences is to create an opportunity to bring up a significant realization I had while in India. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about this realization, but deleted it, fearing it could be viewed as lack of appreciation.

This realization was that culture shock is very real. When learning about culture shock in my Global & Cultural Environment of Business class with Del Mank (side note: if you’re a student and lucky enough to be in the business school, take MGMT 80 with Del Mank – you won’t regret it) I disregarded culture shock thinking it didn’t actually happen to everyone. I was wrong.

In all three cities (Hyderabad, Paris, London) I started out loving the city I was in. But in each instance, I soon realized unique but stark differences in ways of life and missed my ways of living at home. Though culture shock was relatively hard to deal with at times, it really built up an appreciation for home and, in the case of my extended stay in Hyderabad, gave me a chance to appreciate beauty within the nuances.

Global Fellows,Experiential Learning