Saturday, 16 July 2011

Cultural Shocks

As I landed at the Medford Oregon airport, I started looking for a short curly haired woman who was to come to pick me up all the way from Ashland to drive me home. This was no one other than my host mother who had volunteered to host me for an entire academic year. There she was standing with a tag having my name printed on it. After going through customs and all the necesarry formalities, we got into the car to head back home. I went towards the left side of the car to take the seat next to the driving seat and was surprised to find out that the left side of the car had the steering wheel. “Annie, the right side!” She uttered. Oops. I had ignoringly taken the wrong side and felt like a moron for a slight matter of a second. Cultural shock, yeah? Anyhow, I went to the other side of the car, got in and shut the door behind me. I had not known that driving without seat belts was against the laws in the United States and I felt stupid again not knowing the fundamental regulations that shaped the American society. Another cultural shock. Man I was already terrified and was wondering what more was waiting for me to experience.

Anyway, the experience started shooting up when the car started moving on the road. As we began to chat about random things I told her how my life was back in my country. Flashback into some amazing memories is what I had experienced at that particular moment. I was recalling how my mom used to wake me up every morning to get to school on time and how I never picked up after myself and my maid had to do that. Also how I was used to taking naps in the afternoon. Not that I was not expecting any major changes in their lifestyle but I still had to go through a series of cultural shocks one after the other. I felt like a building getting those jerks that it gets when an earthquake has hit. It didn’t take me a lot of time to adjust to the American society as the people around me turned out to be extremely friendly and accepting, contrary to what I had thought. Yes, I had come all the way to the United States of America as an ambassador of my dearest country Pakistan. I was an exchange student who had to live for a whole academic session with an American host family that treated me like a member of their own family.

My first day at school was terribly surprising too. My elder host sister had already taken me to a visit around the campus that was divided into separate units of disciplines of education i.e. the Humanities block, the Science block etc. I had a school route map to assist me yet I had a very hard time getting to my first class. To make things worse, I discovered that day only that getting late to a class got you the status of tardy for that day and two tardies led to one absence….Oops. “I better become responsible enough now, else I’ll end up getting a TARDY every day,” I thought.

The next class was in a different block and I had only 10 minutes to get to the class. So I started running like crazy and got there on time, grabbed a chair and sat down. I could constantly hear students chatting about random stuff: parties, basket ball etc. Also overheard some guys checking girls and GUYS out. I had known about homosexual relationships being common in the US. Thank God :P Anyhow as I was listening to the gossips, I heard someone saying “Hey Gabe!” behind me. I turned around to see who Gabe was and was shocked to see a man moving towards the front part of the room. He was the teacher Mr. Gabriel. Oh shit. Yes many kids in the US call teachers by their first names. This was too much of a cultural shock for me. Everything from the school campus, the kids, the lockers, and the P.E. rooms to the the school cafeteria were so different. Not to forget the streets, the traffic rules, the layout of buildings and homes. But I got used to all that and within no time a year had almost gone by and I was preparing to come back home.

Now more than 6 years have passed and I still cannot forget those cultural shocks that I got when I went there. But most importantly I remember how I had changed perceptions, both of myself and the Americans and how my American family, friends, teachers and colleagues helped me to settle well amidst those cultural shocks.