Viewpoint: Embrace culture shocks

Viola Zhou
Viola Zhou

By Viola Zhou

Living with someone who takes a shower at night, likes to take pictures of food and often stammers when speaking English is not easy. I’m grateful that my roommates put up with all my Chinese habits. As an exchange student, I still find everything so different in my second week in the States. From shaking hands to going to a concert in the university stadium, cultural shocks are everywhere.

Cultural differences really make people uncomfortable. You cannot express yourself well and look stupid when speaking your second language; you don’t know what to talk about with your foreign friends and get embarrassed; you don’t want to eat weird food with people from other cultural backgrounds.

Then you see your fellow countrymen. You can say whatever you want now. What a relief. Stay with them.

I guess that’s why students grew up in different countries seldom become more than nodding acquaintances, even in a university as international as Baylor.

I am overwhelmed by how various ethnicities are mixed up here. But a bunch of different hair colors does not mean cultural diversity. Looking at the growing environment of people, you will still see circles of American, Asian, South American and African, even circles of single countries.

Some of us have never hung out with a friend carrying foreign culture, or have never done a group project with a classmate who doesn’t speak perfect English. We don’t like to be shocked by strange ways of communicating and working. It’s tiring. Why bother?

Cultural shocks benefit in a lot of ways. They give you a glance of others’ life so you don’t take everything in your own culture for granted.

They improve our intercultural communication skills, which under globalization is more and more needed in the workplace. You should be able to explain what happens beside you to a foreigner. You should also understand that different people have their own way of planning and doing things.

Cultural shocks even help you to find your identity. Only when you recognize the difference between you and others will you know where you belong.

A lot of opportunities are ready to offer intercultural experience, such as Global Community Living and Learning Center and various studying aboard programs. But cultural shocks are not only for those participants. Baylor has international students from more than 80 different countries. The number of overseas students climbs from year to year. It’s a perfect place for cultural shocks.

To seize the opportunity, you may invite the foreign student next door to have dinner together. You may ask an international student about his or her childhood stories (you will be amazed). You can also follow your foreign friends to their church and experience the difference.

It takes courage, patience and tolerance. But it is worth your effort.

For non-native speakers like me, don’t be ashamed of your less-fluent English. No one should laugh at us as long as we try our best. And we will learn the slangs that never appear in the textbooks.

Viola Zhou is an exchange student and journalism major from Hangzhou, China. She is a reporter for the Lariat.