Exchange Diaries: The Tale of Culture Shock

My name is Moiz Rehan and I am currently on an exchange student program from Pakistan to US. I am placed in Chicago, IL (which is one the most awesome places in the world) and furthermore the experiences I am having here are truly life changing! You should brace yourself because in this article I’m going to dive deep into the adventurous realms of life as an exchange student; I’m going to be a critique of myself and I will certainly make a point of how…wait…oh man! I sound like a fussy old lady: BORING!

“It’s not better or worse, it’s just different”. I absorbed the essence of this phrase at the Washington DC Orientations upon my arrival to America two and a half months ago. These words reflect the true spirit every exchange student should have in order to make his/her exchange experience a success. However, in the practical sense it can be very hard for an exchange student to fit in the American community and particularly harder for them to adjust to the new culture.
Like I said before Chicago is truly an amazing place to be placed in but I am not going to go on and on about how awesome Chicago and my school Parker is, but I am actually going to tell you what has made this experience awesome so far, and that ladies and gents is the challenges part!

Yes, it is quite challenging when you walk through the doors of your new high school and the only person you know is the security guard (who you had met earlier sometime); it is certainly very challenging to navigate through the endless corridors and rooms of your new school and YES, it is very VERY challenging to be introduced to a completely new system of education and for the first time in your life, not being able to figure out how to do your homework!

But the good news is that nothing of this sort happened to me! Ha! But like other exchange students I have had my share of cultural shocks as well. In my opinion that is one of the major experiences as an exchange student when you see people freely snogging each other at public places. Did I say “major”?

And it’s another story when you have no idea what you are supposed to do for that alien looking Maths (hahaha I wrote “Maths” like we call it in Pakistan and the American Microsoft Word recognizes it as a spelling mistake) homework! Your heart always pounds hard whenever you do something independently around your host family’s house because you believe that you are going to mess up again. BADLY. But you know what? Sooner or later you come to accept your surroundings!
You take a deep breath and you say to yourself: “OK, I get it now. I know I can cope up with all this new stuff because you know what? I am standing in America! Yes, America! The place where grapes look like cherries, and tomatoes look like peppers and peaches look like apricots! Where down is OFF and up is ON (I confess I’m still having problems with this one). Where everything is new and completely different, but I’m also in a place which is filled with friendly people who have welcomed me so kindly into their community. I’m in a place where there is positive freedom of expression (personally, I just love the freedom of expression here!). I’m in a place of resources teeming with thousands of varieties of lettuce and cheese I’ve never seen before! I know I can do this!” And this is how you get over your culture shock! (Believe me: this works!)

Most of the time the cultural differences aren’t that obvious and you don’t even feel them unless you really think about them. Another major difference I feel in the American society (apart from PDA) is the liberal attitude. This attitude, though awesome in many aspects, has some other sides to it as well, which for me are very different indeed, for example, the relationship of students to teachers and kids to their parents. I personally believe that the American value of expression’s freedom is very different from Pakistan’s version. I am not saying that people in America are disrespectful to their elders in anyway, but I just feel it as a great difference from a society where teachers are thought to be “divine parents” and parents themselves are thought to be next in line for respect and reverence after God. Americans students are liberal. They have inherited this value from their elders and this suits them absolutely perfectly; but I find it pretty amusing occasionally to see a teenager challenge an elder in some way or another.

I think that a person cannot overcome American culture shock (or any culture shock at that) unless he puts himself in to an American’s position and thinks from an American perspective. I tried doing this and it worked perfectly for me. After I put some thought into the matter, I came to realize that American society revolves around the basic concept of “freedom of expression/speech”. This sole concept is responsible for the difference in every aspect of American culture there is from Pakistani culture. Whether it is PDA, ways of dressing up, the way the Government is run, the manner in which parents and their children interact etc., freedom of expression permeates American society deeply. After realizing this fact, I am now able to recognize the minor differences in American culture as well. It has been an amazing journey so far and I look forward to new and exciting experiences as the year progresses!

Moiz Rehan is a #KLYES Student from Islamabad, Pakistan currently placed in Chicago, Illinois. He stood 2nd among 64,000 students in SSC II Exams this year through FBISE and enjoys cooking, badminton, singing, writing and nutella.