Studying Abroad: Culture Shock

Studying abroad is one of the most exciting opportunities students get to experience. When thinking about not only studying in another country for four months, but also living and creating a life away from one’s friends and family, feeling intimidated and overwhelmed is normal. The thought of leaving home for a long period of time is scary.  When preparing for the trip, a lot of people don’t process this idea – that they are actually leaving home for a long period of time. They just accept it as something that was always going to happen in the near or far future but they don’t actually think about the change and distance from everything they know.  Even people who have traveled with their families in the past or participated in a teen tour for a summer are not prepared for living alone in another country for 4 months.   

It is important for one to prepare for this culture shock that is yet to come, which contributed to the nerves Phoebe felt when trying to decide where she was going to study.  Most people who study abroad go to places that they have never been before. That means that the moment they land in the country they choose they are no longer surrounded by what they view as familiar.  They have just landed in a new and exotic place.  Everything is fascinating and exciting, and they fall in love.  It is only after living in that country – whether it be Barcelona, Israel, Florence or Australia – for a few weeks that the tourist high has worn off, leaving people missing their family and familiarity.  They have to learn how to adjust to the new environment and world that surrounds them. This can be extremely intimidating as he or she must adapt to new cultures, beliefs and values.

Phoebe came to the decision: she was going to study abroad in Tel Aviv! She was completely set on going to study in London for the semester, but she suddenly changed her mind. Unlike many people, she was lucky enough to have the experience of going on Birthright, which gives you the opportunity to travel to Israel for ten days free of cost.  This gave her a small understanding of what her life would be like if she were to live there for four months. When she first told her family she wanted to go abroad in Israel, no one believed her. Everyone thought that she was saying that because she was recently there and loved it; however, they were all wrong.

Although she had some familiarity with what Israel was like, she still experienced a huge culture shock when she arrived. She went from living in the Western world to living in the Middle East, which is something that took some adjustment. Some parts of Israel are extremely modern and westernized, while other parts look like the mythical Middle East.  She still has access to running water, electricity, and other things that she would have access to back at home in New York. For the most part, Israel is a Jewish country, but has a big population of Arabs, Christians and Muslims. There are many middle eastern cities and towns in Israel, but Tel Aviv is a city that comes off as the center of the country – which is another reason why Phoebe choose to study there. She is living in a big city in Israel, but has the opportunity to go out of her comfort zone by visiting other cities that give off more of a mediterranean feel.

Phoebe didn’t grow up religious, so another thing she had to adjust to was Shabbat. As an American, it was obvious that she had different traditions than those who live in Israel. When she first arrived she did not realize how important and how much work goes into preparing for the Sabbath. From Thursday night until Saturday night the entire city is shut down for the most part, because everyone is in their homes spending time together, observing this holiday. This took time for Phoebe to adjust to because when she is home she is usually out and about on Thursday’s and Friday’s – not spending time in the house. Her first Friday abroad Phoebe and her new friends went to a Hostel and had Shabbat dinner there. They enjoyed the atmosphere and continue to do Shabbat dinner every Friday.

phoeebe shab

Since Fridays are mostly dedicated to Shabbat, everyone is running around trying to prepare for the weekend and their dinner at sunset. Phoebe was not prepared for how chaotic and busy the market was when she went to prepare for her first Sabbath on one Friday morning.  Everyone was pushing each other and cutting the lines. As a New Yorker, she first she viewed this as something that was rude, but she later learned that the pushing was done out of anticipation and it was not something that was uncommon.

One factor that also contributed to Phoebe’s decision to study away from home was whether or not her parents would come visit her.  Phoebe has a twin sister who decided to study in Barcelona, so she wanted to make sure she got a little taste of home and family during her time away.  Rhonda and Richard, her parents, planned a trip to Israel.  While Rhonda had traveled there before, Richard had never been.  Phoebe knew she had to show them everything!  This trip to visit Phoebe was also exciting because neither of them had the opportunity to study abroad when they were in college, another reason why Phoebe’s experience has been so special.  

17424593_10154653139789582_1335568184530097824_nmom and dad 1mom and dad 2mom and dad 3Studying abroad is an incredible yet challenging opportunity.  There are many highs and lows.  From going on trips to Amsterdam and Greece, to feeling homesick or losing her cell phone, Phoebe has had them all.  But her trip is coming to an end soon and the anticipation of that is making her feel sad.  She has grown so accustomed to Israel, but the culture she has known for all of her life awaits her.  She will return home June 1st and back to reality to begin her summer internship and then her senior year at Syracuse University.  When talking to Phoebe about her experience, she shared words for future students studying abroad: “ Be open to change and excited for the unknown. Make the most of the short time you have abroad!”


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