Being told by our professors and by the study abroad orientation leaders that we would experience culture was, at first, something I didn’t believe. Having never been exposed to a different culture I denounced their warnings and thought, “how bad could it really be?” I’m starting to understand how naive I was in that moment. Culture shock entails everything from the different currency, language, cars, societal norms, and food that can be found in a different place. Even though Germany is a “western culture” and they share many of the same ideologies we cherish back home, there are many things that are still different.
For one thing, the smoking culture in Germany is much different than in the USA. So many people, many of them very young, in Germany smoke that it’s reminiscent of America in the 1950’s before there was a massive backlash against tobacco companies, something that never occurred in Germany. Sitting down outside of a restaurant in Germany almost guarantees an ashtray at the table which is something you never see in America. There’s also a difference in the perception of public nudity, where there are many parks and beaches that allow nude swimming and sunbathing which is very difficult to get accustomed to. While in many parks children will be naked and no one else in the park will bat and eye or thinks it’s strange.
There is one cultural aspect, however, that I’ve become very accustomed and comfortable with, that being the sauna. At first I was very skeptical about why anyone would want to sit in a hot room for 15 minutes and sweat from every pore of their body but now I understand it more. It’s a great way to relax your muscles, open up your pores, open your airways, and unwind after a long day of exploring Dusseldorf. Having a personal sauna in our apartment, and being thoroughly convinced of its benefits, there hasn’t been one day this week where I haven’t steamed myself completely. Having experienced culture shock first hand I feel as if I’ve grown so much from the experience that I could see myself even becoming a German citizen!