Culture Shock

I have been told countless times since I signed up for the Baylor In Maastricht program last March that studying in another country would be a huge culture shock. I would nod my head in agreement each time someone would explain to me the difficulties of another country, but I never fully realized how different it would be until I stepped off of the bus in Maastricht, The Netherlands last Monday.

I do not speak Dutch and I am surrounded by a city full of Dutch street signs, shops, menues and, most importantly, people. I knew it would take me awhile to adjust, but in those first couple days, I felt completely insignificant and disoriented.

There are so many minute details in Maastricht that differ from America. Glasses are smaller, shoe sizes are not measured in feet, water and bathrooms cost money at restaurants, ketsup occasionally has curry in it, butter is a popular sandwich condiment, coffee comes in individual packets or sachets like tea, plastic shopping bags cost money and many many more.

One experience I had last Sunday with my roommate really changed my perspective. I know it sounds silly, but even though my roommate, Katie, and I had been in Maastricht for a week and we should have known better, we did not bring  a Dutch translation book with us when we went to order Chinese takeout at a restaurant down the street from our dormitory. I didn’t even think about the fact that a Chinese menu would be in Dutch. When we arrived and began flipping through the menu, we looked at each other in horror because we barely understood a word of it. What was “tahoe met oestersaus” or “nasi goreng met varkenssvlees en groenten”?

Finally after trial and error and because Katie figured out the word “chicken” in Dutch was “kippen,” we decided to order “kippenblokjes met cashewnoten” which we dearly hoped was cashew chicken. Thankfully when we got back to our room and opened the takeout box, it was cashew chicken.

I learned a humbling  lesson about surviving in other coutries and about adapting to my surroundings that evening. I had an underlying idea that even though I was in another country with different languages and customs, I would be able to get by with only my English understanding and hope that others would cater to me. But, I learned that because I am the outsider, I should be the one to take the steps to understand the language and customs. I am going to try very hard from now on to learn as much Dutch phrases as I can to able to interact smoothly and safely in Maastricht and make it my temporary home.

~Claire

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