Cultural Shocks


The first thing I thought when I stepped out of the airplane in Chicago was: what am I doing here? I didn’t realize I was in the other part of the world until I started asking people how I was supposed to take a train to change a terminal in a massive airport alone. I was scared to lose my plane, my luggage, my head. I hadn’t slept for 40 hours, I had had several coffees and I was excessively nervous. Forty-five minutes of dropping my luggage in different customs and immigration controls, with not very nice people, passed really quickly. I don’t know if it’s because of the flight, language or fatigue, I remember this a little bit blurry. I was alone, barefoot, and didn’t know how to put my belongings that had been removed and fingered, back into my suitcase. I do not know how or when, but suddenly I was at the terminal, with a lemonade, waiting more than an hour early for my flight. Rest at last.

The first thing you notice when you arrive in another country is the language. Everybody was talking in English, like in the English listening lessons that we did each month in Spain.  The only difference was that this was not a recording, it was real, my reality for the next 10 months. I was really amazed because my English was working. I didn’t really know that I had that language level. I always thought that I would have problems understanding people, but it was pretty easy, I guess my instinct played a role in that. We have more knowledge inside than we think, and when you need it, it’s there for you. 

My host family received me, and we talked about my trip. Well, they talked, because my speaking knowledge disappeared after the lemonade. I was so tired that my mouth only articulated the words hello, yes and thank you. I fell asleep in the car after 44 hours. Rest at last.

Next day I woke up at 6:15, pretty early for a Spanish girl who wakes up at 10:30 at the earliest. It was school day, the third actually. The first for me. I was so confused. I have to take a yellow bus for an hour without service? In Spain I walked for 30 seconds and I was in my high school hall. I walked everywhere, and if it was more than 40 min, I just took the bus and I was wherever I wanted in 15 minutes. It was so complicated for me to understand why everything was so spread out. 

When you are an exchange student at 16, you have the strange feeling that you have lost your independence. Before coming here, I thought Americans were crazy for driving at 16 (in Spain you have to be 18). If you had told me that my friends from Spain had a car and that they could take me anywhere, I wouldn’t even get in the car. I thought it was completely insane. I could not picture a 16-year-old driving. I have to say that I ended up getting into the car of a 16-year-old girl on the third day, because it was that or walking more than an hour.

But the most shocking thing was the meals. Who has dinner at six? In Spain dinner is at ten at the earliest and we wake up the same early to go to school. I took jetlag easily, and I was not tired, but I was really really hungry all the time. I started eating granola bars every 2 hours because I was basically starving. That was the worst thing for me, getting used to American flavors and the food itself. I had the sensation of only eating sugary foods and fats. The first week I ate four days of hamburgers, two days pizza and a corn dog, which compared to my Mediterranean diet, was too much for me. I am dealing with it, though. I’ve discovered there is healthier American food that I didn’t know before and I love.

I could be hours and hours writing about the cultural shocks that I had, and I am still having, in the United States; but I am going to let you go free because it is something you have to live, not read, and discover it by yourself. In my opinion, you should definitely go on an exchange program to some random village in some random country, take a bit of their culture and put it into your backpack. Every day I feel more American, which deeply scares me. You guys are really weird. Or am I the weird one?