On a sort-of off-topic note for today’s overall discussion, I’ve been in France for a month now. And really, I’m getting used to it. I have no idea why I didn’t listen to anyone who told me that I would be okay, because I freaked out for a solid 3 weeks. In the end, I stopped giving shits because I was too tired to give shits about my speaking. And then somehow, magically, my French got better and my host family thinks I’m a joy now.
Well, not magically. I worked my ass off to get to this point. It doesn’t help that I’m the youngest and least experienced in my group, regarding both French classes and international cultural experiences. It also didn’t help that I had many people telling me that I wasn’t good enough to do this and that I was too young to be here, which really just made me have absolutely no confidence in myself.
It’s true: it’s all about the confidence.
And building that confidence is hard, especially when you’re in a different country. Well, not just that. Especially when you’re thrown into a situation where you feel incredibly lost and alone. I would be lying if I said France was fun at the beginning, which is what a lot of my friends said. I heard a lot of comments about being “culturally shocked” and “never wanting to leave this place,” when all I wanted to do was fucking leave this place.
When you’re in a small group, it’s hard not to know everyone else’s business. When I say that, I don’t mean I know what they eat for every meal of the day and what time they go to sleep or how often they run every morning. But I know everyone’s level of French and I know how everyone feels about not only their own skills, but everyone else’s. And I’m sure they could say the same for me. As a fairly analytical person, I sort of know my place in the ranks, and I’m definitely not the best, which really doesn’t matter. Before, I said it shouldn’t matter, yet it did before because I was intimidated. Now, it still shouldn’t matter that they’re better than me, and it really doesn’t matter to me anymore. Why?
Because I’m too tired to care. And really, who gives a fuck how the rest of the world is doing in comparison to you? Nobody cares enough because they’re too busy thinking about how much worse they are compared to the world, when you’re thinking the exact opposite. It’s called the spotlight effect. Ironic, huh?
Being “culturally shocked,” however, is a phrase that I don’t think people who say they’ve been “culturally shocked” actually understand. Traveling, in general, without actually studying, is a cultural shock in itself. You see things that you would never see in the states, because lifestyles are different. And if you haven’t traveled abroad, you probably think the world is exactly the way your state operates. Even if you don’t think that, what you’ve experienced is what you know, and you don’t think of how other countries interpret different behaviors or different ideologies.
I’m in France in a very weird time, right now. Syrian refugees are trying to cross the borders and most of society, here, hates their president because they don’t think he does jack shit. Segregation is real, even though a majority of society doesn’t believe it because of “secularism,” and my eyes have really opened to some of these concepts. Yes, I read about them in the news, but to see this in real life just makes it all worse. Being culturally shocked in a new world by looking at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe is one thing. Experiencing the daily life of a citizen is another.
You want to know what the phrase “international affairs” actually means? It means understanding the lives of others in the world, not stigmatizing yourself into the closed bubble of your home. It’s taking the time to understand the citizens of other countries and taking the time to analyze how other people with different lifestyles view your opinions. It’s attempting to understand a culture that may be the exact opposite of everything you believe in. Maybe, it’s not integrating, but it’s comprehending and communicating with those who are different from us.
That’s what’s fantastic about learning a new language. The ability to speak multiple languages, even if it’s just two, is powerful. That’s why translators get paid bank. That is power that most people don’t have, especially in America, which is sad. That is power that most people who are international affairs majors don’t have, which makes me wonder what they’re motivations are. Your motivation doesn’t have to be to learn a different language, but if you really want to dig your heels into studying international concepts (whether it is politics, economics, etc.), you need to understand at least one other culture. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t just stand there and let the foreign exchange students timidly walk up to you for help. You have to go out of your way to understand, and I mean really out of your way.
Be scared. Be tired. Be lost. Because those are the people who are culturally shocked and experience the exciting things in life that most of us don’t get the opportunity to have.