3 months later: my delayed culture shock
Lots of students claim to experience “culture shock” upon returning home from study abroad. I have heard the same stories over and over – how the people are so much more pleasant in Denmark, how the food is so much tastier in Rome, or how Washington and New York are not as great as people make them out to be. One of my friends from Copenhagen admitted he could barely leave his room during the first few days of summer. Another vows to return to Europe as soon as he graduates next year.
Frankly, I thought they were being ridiculous. Studying in Europe was a joy in so many ways, but I really looked forward to reconnecting with home after my crazy five-month adventure. I missed staring at the glowing lights of Healy Hall every night. I missed country music night at Tombs. I missed seeing signs in English and the heat of D.C. summer. But most of all, I missed something I liked to call the “edge” – that aggressive, go-getter mentality that I proudly considered a hallmark of American culture.
At least, that is what I thought I missed. After moving back to D.C. and starting my ten-week internship at a defense consulting firm, I quickly realized that above everything else, the edge hurt. I just wanted to slow down – slow down during my fifty-hour work weeks in my glass-plated office building; slow down during my morning bike rides over the Key Bridge; slow down all the applications and essays bouncing around in my head. I wanted to take a break from my research and email-writing and unglue my eyes from the hazy glow of the computer screen.
Although the proverbial “culture shock” might have hit me a few months later than everyone else, I think it hit me hard. I feel overly relaxed in tough situations. I am less opinionated and go-getting than my coworkers and peers. I am perfectly fine with sitting on my back porch on a Friday night, doing nothing in particular.
Yes, it appears that Copenhagen has mellowed the heck out of me. It might have been the Danes’ quiet personalities or their obsession with the candle-light “hygge.” It might have been the slow, casual way they walk on the street. It might have been all the social energy and group cohesion that visitors always seem to notice. I am starting to act like I am working and studying in Denmark for the rest the summer. I am coming home earlier from work and spending more time with friends. I am waking up early just so that I can sit outside on the porch in the precious, long hours of sunlight. I am walking slower and breathing easier.
But somehow my newfound complacency feels out-of-place. At Georgetown it sometimes seems like everyone is on a mission, breaking their backs at an unpaid internship or cranking out a new brilliant thesis in Lau. Everyone has an opinion about charged topics, whether it is the handful of Supreme Court decisions this summer or ongoing debates about homosexuality and Catholicism on campus. There are some very strong, outspoken personalities at Georgetown, and it can often get overwhelming. Maybe it’s the natural product of a very educated, eloquent student body. Maybe it’s one of the many consequences of living in D.C.
Whatever it is, I have grown tired of it all. When I ask what you do, don’t tell me your office job at the investment bank or trendy nonprofit. Let’s not talk about politics or work for once. Things can get so serious and testy, even over a drink. In most cases, an argument about the DOMA decision or Obama’s energy speech is not worth shouting over.
This summer, I want to step back from that edge. It is our final summer before graduation, for goodness sake. It is our last time we can take a three month “break” in between semesters. I do not think you have to go Copenhagen to realize the benefits of slowing down. It reduces stress and recharges your batteries. It checks conflict and fosters good relationships.
In one of my favorite commercials, Kingsford Charcoal urges us to “slow down and grill.” As this summer winds down, let’s see if we can adopt that mentality. Once school starts up again, we can crank it back into high gear.