It’s a known fact that students study abroad to experience a new culture – what most of us don’t realize are all the quirks that are a part of it. For that, we can rely on the stories of the 82 students who have just returned to the College after spending the Fall semester abroad.
Whether they cruised the Caribbean, flew Down Under or hopped around Europe, these students don’t re-enter the campus the same as they left it. Along with a slew of digital pictures and suitcases of souvenirs, they bring back to America observations that you won’t always find in a guide book. After all, who knew Costa Rican men carried around fanny packs, or that the mullet is slowly conquering the world?
Studying abroad is hardly limited to the classroom. More than verb conjugations and new vocabulary, these students will remember the fashion faux pas, living conditions and social customs that marked their lives for three months. Here’s the lowdown on what first creates culture shock, but later unforgettable memories, in three of the world’s best travel spots.
San Jos?, the capital and cultural center of Costa Rica, lures Spanish majors and minors at the College with its beaches, nightlife, excellent language programs and affordability.
But for students accustomed to living among the world’s wealthiest, settling down in a developing country for three months is a huge adjustment. In Costa Rica, look no further than the bathrooms for proof.
Jenna Lerro, junior secondary education/English major, said there was no running hot water in the homes. “The shower head looked like the most dangerous contraption ever,” she said. She described the shower head as having a red electrical wire wrapped around it to heat the water as it came out.
The plumbing system presents its own challenge to American habits. “You can’t flush toilet paper,” Heather McBride, junior Spanish and deaf education major, said. “We kept forgetting,” she added, recalling some toilet-clogging incidents in a hotel.
The Ticos, as Costa Ricans are called, also have a distinctive sense of style that turned some American heads.
“The thing I found hilarious was guys in their mid-20s wearing fanny packs around their shoulders,” Lerro said. These man purses were just one sign of emerging ’80s trends.
McBride noticed that Ticos tend to dress nicer than Americans, but among the younger crowd, this is interpreted as dressing as if going out to a club. “Girls wear really tight shirts, a few sizes too small for them, and their pants really low,” McBride said.
For students who travel to Australia, often one of the biggest surprises is that it is similar to America. “Even though I was on the other side of the world, I could still go to McDonald’s, shop at Target and watch Hollywood movies,” Matt Egan, junior journalism major who studied on the Gold Coast, said.
Jenna Scisco, junior psychology major, had the same reaction initially, but then she said she began to see how the culture differed. “It felt more laid-back and very friendly,” she said. In fact, life is so relaxed that it’s not unusual for professionals, even professors, to go have a beer on lunch break with colleagues.
Perhaps a sign of the large drinking culture is the popularity of Vegemite, a spread made from leftover brewer’s yeast extract (a by-product of the beer manufacture process). Aussies are raised on Vegemite, since it is rich in vitamin B, and use it on sandwiches and toast – to a foreigner like Scisco, however, “it smells bad and tastes bad.”
And, like her College peers in Costa Rica, Scisco was eye-witness to the slow resurgence of the ’80s. “Girls wore ’80s-style tapered jeans, long shirts, flat shoes and their hair pouffed out in front.”
Of course, having spent the semester abroad myself in Salamanca, Spain, I do have to throw in my two cents (for which a coin does exist in Euro currency).
One of the things most unnatural for Americans in Spain is throwing their trash on the floor.
When you go to a bar, you are expected to brush any napkins, papers or cigarettes off the counter – the floor will later be cleaned in one full sweep.
Although Salamanca isn’t quite Paris or Milan, it has its own trendsetters.
Red footwear is extremely popular, whether casually worn as sneakers, comfortably as loafers or stylishly as pumps. And even in chilly 40 degree weather, young women would wear short skirts, paired with stockings (there are whole stores devoted to them) and chic boots.
But, alas, even Spain has fallen into the mullet frenzy.
Whether or not this and other trends around the world will soon cross the Atlantic is impossible to predict.
The only guarantee is that if you go on your own study abroad adventure, you’ll be sure to come back with stories that totally redefine your idea of culture.
For more information on the College’s global programs, go to tcnj.edu/%7&egoglobal or visit Green Hall, Room 111.