Category Archives: Pacific Study Abroad

Not everyone speaks English

He was about our age. A group of my friends were out wandering the streets and needed to know what time it was. I shouted across the street to him, and in turn received a look of utter confusion- possibly the most confusing look I have ever received to this date.

I quickly remembered I was in Quebec and not everything revolved around the English language, so I promptly asked him the time in French.

This is the closest thing I have experienced to culture shock, for I have never been outside of the US for an extended period of time. I would attribute this experience to a more personalized version of cultural confusion so to speak. I wasn’t necessarily shocked, and I was only there for a weekend, so I didn’t develop even the slightest bout of homesickness, but I did definitely carry the assumption that everyone was like me. I wouldn’t say that I went through the fight, flight, filter, or flex stages.

While in Quebec for the weekend, I didn’t really experience the full realm of cultural shock, but saw it more as a challenge to utilize my language skills. Had I been in the environment for a longer period of time there is no doubt I would have instantly become overwhelmed. However, just as Bennett suggested, if “perceived as a challenge, can stimulate creativity and provisional communication.”

While abroad, I hope to have the ability to bridge the cultural gap as Bennett mentioned, and to not keep the idea that “people are about the same everywhere” the way I did while in Quebec.

I’ve recently been applying to a program in France, instead of my program in Morocco. Had I still been planning on attending school in Morocco, I feel that my cultural shock would be to a much greater degree than it will be in France. In Morocco, I would stick out more and in turn receive different treatment automatically. Whether that would be better or worse treatment I don’t really know and I am sure is very dependent on the situation; however, I would say that the fear of culture shock and differences in cultural norms, especially when dealing with how women are seen and treated in Morocco did play a great part in my decision to explore other options.

As for France, I think the language barrier will provide the biggest challenge for me, along with some of the behavioral and conversational standards that I might not know about or think of at first. Like most things, over time I believe the situation will improve.

I feel because of my stressed out nature, flight will be a lot stronger reaction than say fight. Leaving my family and friends far behind is something that is very hard for me to think about, and at this point I would say homesickness is my biggest fear.

Growing up with the Gerbericks

Individualism has been a big part of my life growing up. Since I was little, my parents always gave me the opportunity to voice my opinion; whether it be where we go on vacation, or what Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor I wanted. When you’re an only child, this trait can be taken to the extreme and turned into a sense of entitlement, but I like to think that having these options since an early age made me respect my parents that much more. In American societies, respect is earned more than it is inherent, so when someone shows you respect, you typically return the favor. My parents tried to prepare me for the adult world by giving me this little freedom early on, and even treated me as a “mini adult” so to speak- helping me grow up a little faster.

In America, the elderly, especially when they are family, are given respect right off the bat, for we call them “Grandma” or “Nana” or whatever version your family might have, but rarely is the title skipped completely causing us to settle on solely their name. I call my step grandpa “Grandpa Wayne”, and my grandma “Mimmie” which is a tradition in my family. I would never consider using the informality of “Wayne” or “Barbara”. Even adults who are my parents’ friend, or my friend’s parents are addressed as Mr. or Mrs. As I get to know them better, it sometime may turn into Mr. or Mrs. followed by their first name, but this is pretty rare. We do have really close family friends, who are like an aunt and uncle to me, and I refer to them by their first names, but they are the only adults I do that with.

To go, or not to go

My plan was always to study abroad in France. You would understand my obsession just by glancing around my bedroom walls. There isn’t space for another Eiffel Tower photo or figurine. However, that plan changed this past summer, when I began investigating going to Morocco. A few months later and here I am, accepted to my school of choice, Al Akhawayn University, in Ifrane, Morocco.

Post acceptance celebration, I started hearing a few negative things about the safety in Morocco. I heard from various professors that I would need to dye my hair as it isn’t safe to be blonde in that region. I heard from a student who had visited, that as a woman I would be subject to catcalls and be followed through the streets. I read online that Americans are often lead to places by locals and have to pay the locals to be taken back to an area that they are familiar with. It is amazing to me that there are places on this earth, where humans can be traded or bought, but my dad heard a story of a woman offered a camel if a man could take her friend.

I never really thought of my culture and how it defined me until I started thinking about entering another culture. I found that a lot of the things that define me, aren’t widely accepted in other places. Because I am not among the minority in America, I just assumed that I would be fine as a minority in Morocco.

I don’t find myself really attached to any of the aspects that make up my culture. I’m a white, blonde, middle class female. I attend a university, I am not sure where I stand politically, or religiously. I grew up in the south, but recently moved to California. I’m 20, so I’m still trying to find myself and my purpose. I don’t affiliate myself with any groups that really nurture any of these values. I know I am who I am because of my culture, but I haven’t really stopped to think about any of these things until recently.

I realized that most of the things that define me, have the potential to hurt me. It is amazing that in this day and age being white, or a female, or having blonde hair, could put you in more danger than being a brunette, or a male, or someone of color. I never grew up with an attachment to these values or ideas of culture, because this is just the way it has always been. I am blown away that there is a place on this earth where if I want to go there and increase my level of safety, I should dye my hair brown. How can you judge a person based on their hair?

But then again, how can you judge a person based on their skin color?

It’s been a lot to think about, and I’m now (once again) looking into schools in France. I’ll keep you all posted on where I end up, I am so excited for the adventure of a lifetime.