Sunday, August 25, 2013

Growing Pains and Culture Shock

Me as a fresher
Cats poop here?

Growing Pains

When I was in high school I thought of college as an escape from the boring 'burbs to my exciting, awesome future life. But as I said goodbye to my mom and sister who came all the way to St Andrews to drop me off, I was totally overwhelmed by the anxiety and panic going through me at the cusp of being all by myself in a foreign country. I knew no one, had no support system, and didn't understand the locals most of the time (still true). After all of that wishing and hoping, I was actually terrified. I clutched them and cried hard

I feel an echo of that at the end of summer - this year more than others. With every September I get to return to people I love and my little country home away from home but this is my last year. It'll all be over in the spring. I feel a different type of driftless - I don't feel home at home and I'm still an alien in Scotland. Where do I belong? Where should I go with my brand new diploma? I have no idea. 

In Minnesota I don’t relate to going up to the cabin, getting pumped for the state fair, being Christian, or Minnesota nice. (Yes, I know all Minnesotans aren't like this - I'm speaking in broad generalizations of the Scandinavian descendants I grew up with) To me, Minnesota is familiar and easy.

Part of moving to the UK after years of dreaming was a huge reality check. I’d projected so much of my boredom and longing into a fantasy about living there that just wasn’t true. Comparing the idealized version of it versus reality made adjusting to college harder.  There are pros and cons of living in either country and its easier to revere the pros of a place from a distance. The grass is always greener, right?

West Sands Beach
Jumping for joy as a fresher, 2010

Culture Shock

On a related note I read a great article in the New York Times that voiced so many things I’ve asked myself about the British. Everything just clicked and I wanted to jump up and yell "THIS IS SO TRUE!" or as they say, "spot on":
Even after 18 years, I never really knew where I stood with the English. Why did they keep apologizing? (Were they truly sorry?) Why were they so unenthusiastic about enthusiasm? Why was their Parliament full of classically educated grown-ups masquerading as unruly schoolchildren? 
Why did rain surprise them? Why were they still obsessed by the Nazis? Why were they so rude about Scotland and Wales, when they all belonged to the same, very small country? And — this was the hardest question of all — what lay beneath their default social style, an indecipherable mille-feuille of politeness, awkwardness, embarrassment, irony, self-deprecation, arrogance, defensiveness and deflective humor?
As someone who's reserved/standoffish for an American but also "stupidly enthusiastic" like a "Labrador puppy let loose in an antique store" compared to the British, I just love this article! Communicating can be so confusing. Because often Brits don't like to "make a fuss" or they're overly polite and conflict avoidant to say what they mean, I don't really know where I stand, which is so frustrating and mystifying! I could write an anthropological study.

I love living abroad for the most part, but small things - communicating, getting from A to B, making appointments - can be daunting. It's like being a child, everyday. Moving away thousands of miles from home as a teenager has been the most difficult and rewarding experience.

What advice would you give to incoming freshers?