Study Abroad Culture Shocks!
By Jade Hughes
Studying abroad is exciting and rewarding, but you might encounter some surprises along the way! I spoke to Swansea students who spent a semester or year in France, Germany, Italy and Spain to give you a guide to the more shocking parts of life in these countries…
France may be known for its wide variety of cheeses and scrumptious breads, but you might still have trouble finding something to satisfy your hunger at the local supermarché, particularly if you’re craving something a bit more familiar. Some students were disappointed to find a lack of British comfort food in most places. If you do find something that reminds you of home, be prepared to pay a premium price – a tin of beans, for example, could set you back four euros!
Students were also surprised by how common strikes are in France compared to the UK. The most common are teacher strikes and transport strikes – since 1947, there has been at least one rail strike every year! Even doctors have taken time off to protest. Just last month, hundreds of healthcare workers took to the streets to express frustration with the government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Just remember to check whether or not the trains are running before heading off to Paris!
You might go to Germany in search of beer and sausages, but many students who studied there were greeted with mountains of paperwork instead! Bureaucracy is a key part of German life, and everything is much more structured and organised. In university, for example, lecturers are often strict about their office hours and won’t reply to emails from students outside of these times. Don’t even think about shooting your module co-ordinator a quick email the Friday before an important deadline, as they’re unlikely to reply for a while!
Another aspect of life that is affected by timing is shopping – you’ll be out of luck if you decide to pop to the supermarket on a Sunday. This is the same in many European countries, where supermarkets tend to be closed all day, unless you live in a largely touristic area. If you go to the shops on any other day of the week, you might experience the famous German efficiency first-hand, as cashiers scan shopping so fast that it’s likely that you’ll still be packing your bags when the next customer is paying!
In contrast to the strict timings in Germany, life in Italy is a lot calmer. People tend to arrive late to meetings and shops may not even open on time! While British students may think being late is rude; arriving early or on-time in Italy has the same impact as it can make it seem like you’re rushing them, so embrace their culture and be fashionably late.
Staring is also common in Italy, and this might take some getting used to! However, don’t rush to check your reflection in the nearest mirror, as they are unlikely to be staring at you because your hair is messy or you’ve got something stuck in your teeth; freely staring is just a societal norm over there.
Just like in Italy, attitudes towards time in Spain are also a lot more relaxed, and most restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 9pm! Spaniards are much more likely to start eating after 10, while their ‘nights out’ don’t start until the early morning, with bars opening at around 2am. Clubs are even open until 6am in some areas – I think we should start a petition to get Sin to do the same thing once COVID restrictions are over!
People also tend to be a lot more friendly and open to contact in Spain, which can shock British students. Like their neighbours in France, as well as in many other countries across the world, people in Spain are likely to greet people with a kiss on the cheek, even when meeting them for the first
time. Additionally, when going into a shop or a café, it is common to greet the owners, and if someone is eating, you may even wish them a good meal!
Despite there being aspects of life in these countries that take some getting used to, the overall consensus is that living abroad is a worthwhile experience. Rather than being afraid of culture shock, learn to accept the quirks of each country and embrace a new and unfamiliar way of living.