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Orionite Abroad: Conquering culture shock

Michelle Manera

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Writer Michelle Manera travels to London for the first time and poses for a picture at Piccadilly Circus.


If you have ever been to a circus, you’re familiar with the high-energy atmosphere mixed with grime and grease. This week I went to Piccadilly Circus in London and although it was at a shopping district, it felt similar to a circus with thousands of bustling people.

Culture shock itself is like a circus because it can scare you or make you question going somewhere new, but the best remedy is to relax and have fun.

When I arrived at London Heathrow Airport, one of the biggest airports in the world, I questioned if this trip was going to be worth it. I had not slept on the plane as planned,so I dealt with claustrophobia for almost 11 hours, in addition to anticipating major jet lag.

We finally got off the plane and everyone in the airport was running. Everyone fed their anxiety with the anxiety of the others. Thankfully, the locals used English. However, I focused more on when I messed up, making wrong turns, instead of finding the next step in getting to my destination.

I finally made it to my housing and only two people had arrived in the new “flat,” as apartments are called in Britain. Two girls, one from Maryland and one from Germany, shared dinner with me when I had nothing to eat.

They offered to take me to town when I had no idea how to get there. They also took me to the Brighton Pier, where I saw one of the most beautiful views I have ever experienced.

Here’s the thing about culture shock: everyone gets it. These girls knew exactly how I felt because they had felt it the day before. The next day, I showed those who arrived after me around. There is always someone to help and always someone you can help in return.

Culture shock is a daily experience that doesn’t go away. When I was settled in at Brighton after a few days, we went to London and I saw landmarks like the Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster and Big Benbut landmarks aren’t the foundation of culture.

I really felt England’s culture when I leaned against the side of a building and just watched people talk on their phones and to each other as they walked by. The way people communicate is what makes their culture unique, and can also be what causes the shock.

When dealing with the anxiety early on, just remember to relax and ask questions. Odds are you will never see the locals again, and they are used to their native landscape being troublesome for visitors.

When I missed the last train out of London, even though I ran a mile after seeing “Phantom of the Opera,” I just focused on the next ten minutes.

What’s the next step to getting home? Don’t think about what happens if you don’t get back to your dorm. Don’t think about just giving up or calling your adviser. Just keep going towards what you want and you will get there eventually. Worrying just slows you down.

Stay calm when absorbing culture shock. It’s going to happen, but you’re going to get through it.

That’s the beauty of shock. It comes in short bursts and you can increase your endurance after dealing with it.

As easy as this sounds, it will be much harder to identify growing anxiety in the moment. Just know that the feeling is fleeting, as long as you choose to relax and ask questions.

Just buy a bag of peanuts and learn to enjoy the circus.

Michelle Manera can be reached at [email protected] or @michelle_manera on Twitter.

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Orionite Abroad: Conquering culture shock