Going from East to West

Coming from the east to live in the west: you can imagine how much culture shock I suffered. From a 90% Muslims country to a 97% Catholics country, yep, it’s different too. And if you are a future exchange students that also going to do an exchange from east to west and going to have a 360 degrees of change, here are some tips for you on facing your cultural differences.

#1 It’s different, not wrong.

That is the number one thing you should remember. There is no right or wrong in this ‘culture shock’ thing: it’s just different. 

“Oh but it is forbidden in my religious beliefs! And there, it is considered wrong.”

Son, remind yourself that you are doing an exchange for a new experience, for a new life, and especially, for a new culture. And no, culture are not only the art, the dance or the song, culture is the way of life. And the first thing that you should remember when you’re having a culture shock is that: that is how the people here lives

#2 Explain

There is nothing wrong with explaining and talking through what you think. You came from a different world, different country and most important, different culture. Tell your host family or the people that caused you the culture shock what happened.

It happened to someone you don’t know and you choose not to bark in to a stranger? Well, tell your host family. After all, your host family probably act the same as the stranger that you met since you live in their country. 

In my family in Italy, dinner time is sacred: that is when I should tell everything that I need to know or everything I think they need to know. Every dinner we talk about our day, so I am I with my day. I’ll tell them what happened, and they will tell me how to face it.

Explaining can also prevent the shock to happen again. For example, you are a Muslim girl and you can not be touched by other men except your brothers and father, since it is not right for your religious belief. But your Italian host father wanted to hug you since it is the way of Italian to show love. Tell him. Talk through to him, explain everything that in your religious belief you can not be touched. It is better than later when the other person wanted to do something that is not right and you have to act defensive.


#3 Ask, ask, ask, ask!

Ask everything. Literally, everything. You might know how to use the toilet since it looks the same with the one in your house in your home country, but like I say, the people from the country you’re hosted might use it differently. 

Like explaining, there are nothing wrong with asking. Your family, friends and teachers know that you came from halfway around the world that makes you basically an alien. 

I, for one, always ask. Especially in the dinner table. The Italian eating style and Indonesian is really different. Indonesian eating style is very humble and traditional: sometimes we use our hands, even, without spoons or forks, and knife is barely used. But here in Italy: the opposite.

I always ask my family if I don’t know how to eat something. Like, “should I do this? Should I do that?” and my family will gladly show me how to do that. It might look like you’re stupid and like a pre-historic person, but well, you are there learning new cultures!

#4 Be a good observer

Although I don’t recommend this (I prefer you ask), be a good observer if you are too shy to ask. At the first time, you might be shocked with what people around you do, but, be a good observer. Find out why they do that. Do a background research. And, be a good observer and imitate. 

In Indonesia, I eat everything with a spoon, while here in Italy, I have to use the fork all the time. I don’t know how to do that at first, but also now I still find some discomfort eating with fork, but I look carefully at how my host family eat, and eventually, I imitated them. The shock will eventually gone, I am sure.

#5 Give up!

Confused? I’ll explain. Give up doesn’t mean that you go home to your home country and stop doing the exchange, but what I am implying here is: give up your old culture. You are learning a new culture, so, in order that new culture to get into your life, give up your old. And giving up doesn’t mean forgetting. It means that you have to accept the new culture.

At my first time using the bus to go home from school, I was really, truly, shocked by what happened. It was one of my biggest culture shock that I won’t forget. The Italian teenagers, after school, have no chill. They will fight for their seats on the bus to go home (because they are: a) tired  b) hungry  c) Italians don’t keep calm. Sums it up = chaos)

I struggled a bit at first. It was hard for me to get in the bus since there were a lot of people that wanted to have seat, that they will push you and give zero damn about you. I then remember that in Indonesia, they will get in one by one, or if they’re in a hurry, they will not push you away. One time, I was being an Indonesian and being calm, and I lost five buses that I had to walk 5 km to the city center to catch another bus.

I had a hard time: I wanted that calmness of Indonesian. But then, I give up. I accept the fact that that is how Italians live. And as I had written before, I imitated. (Also, I slowly became a) tired  b) hungry  c) have no calm after school) And guess what: right now I always get a seat in the bus.


#6 Never compare!

It’s actually what exchange student always do, and I myself still do that also: comparing to our home countries. “In Indonesia, they…”; “they don’t do ….. in China”; “We don’t have this in Argentina”

While at some point comparing is important, for example, to explain why you are shocked or why you don’t do some certain things, but  keep on comparing things means that you don’t accept what’s in front of you. 

I, for one, at first didn’t like the Italian school system (I still kinda do, though). The Italian school system can be summed into one, single, strong word: boring. The students are passive and forced to sit and listen to what the teacher mumbling about for five hours with not a lot of interaction between them, and the students are forced to accept everything that the teacher say.

While in Indonesia, the students are forced to be more active, do fun projects and we have a lot of connection between the teacher and the student, we have a two-way connection, and although sometimes it sucks, the system in Indonesia made the students and the teachers partners. We could discuss different way of doing things, while here, according to me, not so much.

I did a comparison here but I need to explain. But, if I keep on comparing the school system, that means I don’t give up my old culture, and I can’t accept the new one. But as the time goes by, you will adapt. But adapting will be so much faster if you stop comparing things

That is how you could face the cultural differences, according to me. I know I am not perfect, but, I hope that this could help the future exchange students that will go on an exchange year. Ciao!



This story was written by Aloysius Efraim, a student from Indonesia that is now doing  exchange year in Scorzè, Italy. If you want to know more about me, visit my blog indotaliano.wordpress.com or add him on Facebook.


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