Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Three Stages of Study Abroad

They say there are three stages of adjustment during study abroad: First, The Euphoric Stage, or honeymoon phase. Your eyes light up at every cobblestone, Colosseum sighting, Irish accent, whiff of B.O., etc. Some people stay in this phase for the entire trip, others lose it the instant they learn about the lack of Easy Mac. 

Second, The Hostile Stage, commonly felt as bitterness. You hate everything about your host country. Why aren't the toilets automatic? Why do they drive on the wrong side of the road? Why don't they shave? Why don't they have regular peanut butter? Why does everyone hate Americans? Again, bitterness' longevity depends upon the person. For most, it lasts only a few weeks.

And the third, the best, is The Acceptance Stage. You come to terms with the quirks of your host country, and appreciate it. Yes, U.S. toilets may flush faster, but the U.K. toilets allow you more moments of reflection in the bathroom. Yes, they don't have living rooms here. Ok, that's a problem. But you accept it.

I'd like to think I'm still in The Euphoric Stage, but I've experienced a few annoyances with the British system. 

On the first day of class, I reeked of hostility. I went to the English department to try and sort out my classes, which were all scheduled at the same time. I found out I had to buy two course booklets for two classes--7.99 and 5.00 pounds each. I use them for one day. I also had to buy Shakespeare's Sonnets for 10 pounds that I use for one day. In the whole semester. You know how you hear England is ridiculously expensive? It's those dang course booklets.

I go to the library, hoping that will soothe my nerves. I make a beeline for the cafe, and bundle my English coins while buying a chicken salad sandwich. I walk out to find a place to sit. Can I eat this outside of the cafe zone? Are food and drink allowed? Not knowing a place's customs throws me off. It's a simple task: where can I eat a bland chicken salad sandwich that tastes the way my moldy flat smells? Don't know.

Next I go to the library's PC Room. No Macs, pity. It's completely full.  I trek up and down the three floors, wandering into each full PC Room like a hopeless American. Finally I see a spot no one has taken. I zoom in and see the keyboard has giant keys colored red and blue. Hmm...a standard British keyboard? 

I look above the PC and see a sign that says, "Computer for the Visually Impaired." Damn. Now I have a huge sign on my head that reads "Clueless American Who's Visually Impaired." Off to lurking more computer rooms. After 20 minutes, I find a computer for people who aren't blind, and finally feel off to a good start.

Not so much. I reach for the Shift key, which is the size of a a letter key. Same with the Enter key. That just throws people off. I reach for the @ key. There is no @ key! How can I type my e-mail address? (Do I sound bitter yet?) After scanning the keyboard like a visually impaired person, I spot it on the comma key. This is what they call culture shock, I guess. 

I slump home in my Target rainboots, next to a girl with a billowy jacket laced with gold buttons, black tights and fancy leather knee-high boots. Shoot me. And it's raining. I walk faster.

For dinner, my roommates and I want to use our oven. The temperatures follow: 1, 2, 3, 4...Where's 350??? I turn on the stove, and it doesn't work. We watch our British roommate turn the gas on, light a paper towel with his lighter, and hold this to the stove plate to ignite the flame. Second-degree burns, here I come.

Ok, I sound like a classic stage of bitterness. But it was only one day. And it was just "adjusting." Now, I can laugh at all those petty quirks. I'm accepting, I swear!

No comments: