Culture Shock By Megan Gallagher

I always wondered what it would be like to leave the country. I would daydream of the moment I could take off and start my own adventure. When I signed up for the Simonyi program, I anticipated that feeling of experiencing another country, away from what is familiar. Our group had meetings prior to departure, but the reality that I was given this opportunity still hadn’t hit me. I was waiting for it to feel real, but my mind simply couldn’t accept that I would soon be plucked from my little bubble of Ohio University and move abroad for 9 weeks. Being an over-organized planner, I started packing a week early. I hoped that this would help the idea sink in, but still nothing hit me. It wasn’t until the morning of my departure that my stomach started getting butterflies. My dad drove me to the airport and I was at a loss of words. The trip to the airport happened so fast and before I knew it I was waving goodbye and entering security. My 24-hour flight experience was intriguing and exciting. After the first layover I could no longer understand half of the languages being spoken around me and with each take off I felt more and more amazed that I was actually doing this. Arriving in Pecs, it was dark and very late. We explored the apartments and anxiously unpacked our things into what would be our new home for 9 weeks. As I laid down to sleep that night, I forced my eyes closed looking forward to exploring around. Little did I know the culture shock that was soon to come….

8 things no one told me before I went abroad:

#1 – Body Clock

You would think that after 24 hours of travel I would have slept like a baby, but that wasn’t the case. Every hour I found myself checking the time in a confused daze. How was it only 3AM? I felt like I could run a marathon. This sudden understanding that my exhaustion was not going away anytime soon took me over. It was least a week for my body decided to reset and give in to this time change.

#2 – What are you looking at?

Walking around Pecs for the first time I probably looked like an excited child. I was floured by the antique colorful buildings, the cobblestone streets, the city center…. I expected this. I had been waiting for this moment. What I didn’t expect was to be stared at. Everywhere we went, I felt like I was on show. People would break their necks to turn and look at us, point and whisper. I’ve learned to speak more softly and travel less in groups in attempt to fit in.

#3 – That will be 5000 Ft. please!

Hungary is on Forints. Switching my American dollars over to forints at the exchange counter, I felt as if I were being handed monopoly money. I’ve seen Euro’s before, but not forints. These numbers are so big! Walking around in the store, the prices made my jaw drop. 5000 Forints = 22 US dollars. Now that takes some getting used to… But for now, I have my currency calculator! Thank goodness.

#4 – Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles

Nothing quenches my thirst like water. Water and ice is the perfect combination. I drink at least 9 glasses of water everyday at home. In America, water is free and convenient. Here, this is not the case. Water costs money everywhere you go. And to top it all off, water is commonly fizzy. To my surprise, bubbles appeared in the water I was drinking and ice is rarely an option. I now know to ask for “still water”, something I completely took for granted.

#5 – Take advantage of set menus

I am always last to decide what I would like to order at a restaurant. In most American restaurants, choices are endless. In Europe, restaurants have “set menus” for lunch. Meaning, you will order one of two choices (a choice of pizza or lasagna) instead of a long menu of options.  Most restaurants have chalkboards or signs outside stating what their set menu is so you can walk down the streets and pick the restaurant based on the set menu.

#6 – Energy conservers

I never realized how much energy I waste at home in America until I came abroad. It is very common at home for people to leave lights and fans on as well as their straightener or blow dryer plugged in when they leave the house. Here, they make it near to impossible to waste energy. Many apartments and hotels have a slot you put your key in by the door when you enter, which powers on all of the electricity in the room. So, when you leave, you must take the key out and leave the room powerless. This means no charging any devices while your gone, considering the plugs are shut off. As different as this is, it is a very smart way to conserve energy!

#7 – The waiter is the king

Back at home, waiters and waitresses are typically starter jobs. Here, being a waiter is a profession. These people take their job very seriously and expect you to show respect to them. They take pride in what they do and to be honest, I’ve never been waited on like this is my life! They definitely deserve the high opinion they are longing for.

#8 – Are we there yet?

After speaking with some of the foreign students, I have recognized they perceive Americans as extremely lazy. I found myself wanting to defend our name, but I cautioned myself looking back on the time we have been abroad. With no cars, we have been walking everywhere. Or, we wait for buses/trains for several minutes. This is second nature to these people. But, not once did we go somewhere without an American complaining “Wait, its 20 minutes away!?” or “Ugh are we there yet?” I realize that the truth is we are lazy and we don’t appreciate our quick transportation. So, next time you get in the car, picture yourself walking there and realize you are blessed!

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