I studied abroad in Beijing at Peking University through UCEAP in Fall 2017, and something that surprised me when I arrived in Beijing and then also when I left to go back to the U.S. was the culture shock I experienced.
When I arrived in Beijing, I realized that I was having a hard time adjusting to everyday life there. Everything about my everyday life there was vastly different from my everyday life back at UCSD. Although I was expecting to experience lots of change, I really didn’t know what to expect about what the culture would be like and how I would adjust to it. In order to adjust to the lifestyle and overcome my culture shock, I decided to learn as much about everyday life as possible and integrate myself into society to the best of my ability. I began to use Chinese apps rather than American apps on my phone for things like maps, I changed my messaging apps to Chinese language rather than English, and I tried to talk to as many locals as I could. Working to experience the lifestyle and culture significantly helped me adjust, and within the first month of my program, I fell in love with Beijing, Beijing lifestyle, Chinese culture, and everything else about my study abroad experience.
The other surprising thing to me was what I felt when I came back to UCSD after living in Beijing and studying at Peking University for four months. I truly did experience reverse culture shock, which was very different from the culture shock that I experienced when I had first arrived in Beijing. Everything back at UCSD felt both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It felt the same as when I had left, but I personally had changed so much because of my truly life-changing study abroad experience. I wasn’t prepared for returning back home and what the adjustment would be like, and I missed China and my lifestyle in Beijing immensely. When I came back, I surrounded myself with friends and family and tried to do as much at UCSD as I could, to once again get used to my new lifestyle.
The most surprising thing about my culture shock experiences was that I wasn’t expecting them. Having traveled out of the country before, I thought I would be able to adjust quickly. But I wasn’t as resilient as I thought I was and had to put significant effort into adjusting by getting used to the changed lifestyle and doing other things to help such as journaling, both about my experiences in China and about my experiences returning back home. Taking the time to reflect on why I felt certain ways with the major changes that came during this span of four months was extremely helpful, and it is now a lesson I take with me wherever I go.