April 11, 2012

CULTURE SHOCK: Returning to Cornell

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As a Human Development major, I find any psychological theory endlessly fascinating. Everyone has heard of culture shock, but how about reverse culture shock?

Since I am a stand-in as my own personal psychologist, I informed myself of possible reverse culture shock symptoms as I re-assimilated into American collegiate life after studying abroad in Florence. Typical reported symptoms include feeling unfamiliar in one’s home environment, confusion and stress.

When I refer to my amazing adventures last semester, my go-to phrase of description is always, “It didn’t feel like it was ‘real life.’” Mostly because it included traveling around Europe on the weekends (Prague, Paris, London, Berlin and more), making my own pasta for dinner and enjoying educational wine tours (the actual name of my 3-credit class that took weekly trips to vineyards around Tuscany).

I was living la dolce vita, so returning to the U.S. at the end of my fall semester was a harsh slam of returning to “the real world.”

Yet now back at Cornell, I’m realizing that our University isn’t quite the real world either. It has its own wonderful culture, some of which I find as silly as Italian construction workers drinking the daintiest cups of espresso on work breaks.

The American college experience is unique. In most countries, university students live at home and commute to school. While they remain in their relative extended community, Cornellians live in an isolated bubble among relatively intelligent humans in the 18-23 demographic.

Occasionally, when I walk around campus I will notice an extreme outlier in this typical college demographic. “Wait when did freshman get so small?” Upon closer look, I often realize it’s a human child that I am beholding.

I love this bubble, though. I love that I don’t have class on Tuesday and Thursday. I typically never wake up before 9 a.m. Taking afternoon naps (whether in my room or in the library) are part of my daily routine. I mean, we even have our own currency in this fake world … let’s be real: Big Red Bucks are not real money (although our parents might beg to differ.)

By the end of sophomore year, I was over the idea of mixers but now think they are the coolest things ever. You want to pick me up at my house, encourage me to wear a themed outfit and supply free drinks while I party in your mansion? Count me in! (Although, on a cultural note, my Italian wine teacher in Florence would faint at the sight of Chardonnay in a cardboard box. But, hey, you have to love Franzia. It’s so college. Someone please save me, though, if I ever ingest it after I graduate.)

While I was abroad, I sought out cool cultural experiences. Moments of pure joy and excitement on the Eiffel Tower looking out over the city, seeing the remains of the Berlin Wall or riding a gondola through the canals of Venice. It was this feeling of how incredible life is. How there are so many things to see and do in the world.

And I’ve been doing the same exploration since I’ve been back at Cornell.

I went to The Chapter House on Wednesday night to see a friend who’d graduated. I had brunch and drank Bloody Marys at Banfi’s with my roommate. Every time I go CTB, I think this couldn’t feel more “college-y.” I went to a book talk in Mann Library and learned the inspiring lessons of elders. I signed up for a women networking event at the Statler, got a free lunch, talked to some successful alumna and realized life continues post-graduation.

I’ve re-learned that it’s awesome to spend my time in college at such a beautiful and amazing school as Cornell.

Before time passes by, stop and enjoy the Cornell culture. Embrace the smell of flat Keystone at a fraternity party.  Hum along to the clock tower playing “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters.” Meet up with friends from freshman year at Temple of Zeus, or even go to a history colloquium. (Okay, admit it. Have you climbed the clock tower yet or bowled at Helen Newman?  Well, what are you waiting for?)

My reverse culture shock returning to Ithaca proved a blessing. It made me so aware of the Cornell culture and how incredibly special it is. I’ve never been so excited to be in college. I’ve never been so grateful for Cornell.

Annaclaire Brodnick  is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. She may be reached at [email protected]. Notes from Abroad: Culture Shock appears on Wednesdays.

Original Author: Annaclaire Brodnick