The stages of culture shock

© Isabeau van Halm
Autumn in Toronto © Isabeau van Halm

Culture shock – it was probably one of the first things your teachers talked about when you arrived in the country where you will spend your semester abroad. It has four different stages, all with a accompanying mood; the honeymoon stage, just after you arrive, where everything is awesome; the stage of withdrawal, where you basically get annoyed by everything in your host country; next is the recovery stage, where you learn to accept the differences; and finally, acceptance, when you embrace the differences and eventually love them.

The only thing those teachers forget to mention, is that everyone can experience ‘culture shock’ very differently. As a Dutch student going abroad to Toronto, Canada, I didn’t expect to experience any of it. I thought it only happened to people who went to countries which are fundamentally different from their own. But I found out that even in countries that seem similar, you can have some trouble adjusting.

The first two weeks when I got here, I had trouble adjusting. I even was a bit depressed.It was hard to make friends, and I had a lot of trouble with things I see as normal everyday things, like grocery shopping. Not only couldn’t I find any products similar to the ones I use at home, I found out that everything is supersize. Forget buying things like milk, eggs and meat for one person or in small portions; you have to buy at least half a kilo of everything. Also, the people irritated me. Everyone was so nice, it looked so fake. In a store, did they really want to know how I was doing?
But after these first two weeks things started to get better. I made friends, got used to the people here and learned to embrace them. After a month spending time in Toronto, I loved the city and the people. Canadians are genuinely nice, and I absolutely love the mix of cultures here. If I have to list everything that I like about here, you would still be reading this article tomorrow.

My experience with the shock of being in another country thought me to appreciate the little things that are different in the Netherlands. Because you will still spend two months here, I will list five of them, so you’ll have the time to learn to appreciate them too.

  1. Small portions. As I said before, everything is big here. In restaurants, but also in grocery stores. I’m longing for an Albert Heijn, where you can buy vegetables and meat very conveniently for just one person.
  2. The staff in stores. Although I’m not bothered anymore by people asking me all the time if they can help me, it still is nice to be able to just walk through a clothing store without friendly staff talking to you every five minutes.
  3. Cappuccino and other Italian coffees. In a country where Tim Hortons and Starbucks rule the streets, finding a good cappuccino or espresso is hard. I miss unflavored coffees, that come out of a machine with real coffee beans.
  4. Some of the food (of course). List of foods that I really miss here and you definitely have to try while you are in Utrecht: poffertjes, rookworst from the Hema, fresh stroopwafels, chocolate covered pepernoten and every other candy related to Sinterklaas.
  5. The buildings. Although Canada is very pretty, especially the nature, Toronto is a very American city if it comes to architecture. Buildings are sky-high and very modern. It made me appreciate the European architecture more, so take the chance to look around at the beautiful buildings the Netherlands had to offer!
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