Culture shock

By Kelly McKee
October 14, 2004

Harold William Halbert

So far my experiences in the United States have been a culture shock, to say the least. I am here at Cabrini College on a year-long exchange program from Northern Ireland. The slogan of my program is, “It’s not good or bad, it’s just different.” This comes to mind when my roommate tells me my pants are cute, and I am wondering how she saw my underwear.

Back in Ireland I study in a university with 30,000 other students, so you can imagine how strange it is for me to be here at Cabrini where things are a little more “personal.” My first few weeks here I was constantly met with, “Oh you’re the Irish girl,” followed by, “Oh say something, I love your accent.” Now as charming and complimentary as this may be, can I just warn future acquaintances that I will not “do the leprechaun from Lucky Charms,” no matter how much I like you.

I must say that after only six weeks of Cabrini life, I feel very settled and welcomed. The sense of community on campus still astounds me. I go to a city university back home where the lecturer would have trouble differentiating between the 300 law students in the class. Homework is a rarity and lectures or classes is not mandatory. The style of learning is very independent and grades come from one final exam or dissertation at the end of the semester. This being the case, I am having trouble adjusting to the methods of teaching here, often feeling like I am back in a more intense high school. I am not saying the American way of education is any better or worse than that of back home, just different.

Northern Ireland is a beautiful country and although troubled to this day by terrorism, it was a wonderful place to grow up in. It has much to offer in terms of scenery, history and culture, not to mention the bars on every corner. This particular social culture is something I will miss greatly being in the United States. Sociable drinking or even just frequenting bars for lunch, quizzes and general mingling is a big part of the youth culture of Ireland, my university alone has three bars in its student union. At home this has been an avenue open to me for three years now. Coming to America and finding myself restricted in this way has been difficult but it is all just part of the experience.

I’ve heard of language barriers in study abroad programs but I think I’ve discovered a new problem, accent barriers. This was most evident when the vendor of “Geno’s” cheesesteaks looked at me blankly when I attempted to order “whiz without.” On this topic I knew America was “the land of the brave” and the “land of the free,” but what I did not know was that it was “the land of cheese.” Cheese is everywhere-on fries, (or chips, as I call them), on steaks, on pasta and even on eggs. And I thought the French were bad.

This aside my experience in the United States has been great so far. I am sure I have asked some silly questions and I know I have made my roommate crazy by drinking hot lemonade, but that’s diversity for you. I miss my homeland dearly but with every other person I meet telling me they are “Irish too,” I know that I am among kindred spirits. So if you see me around campus, come and say “hello” or “Top of the mornin’ to ya.” Please just don’t tell me that my English is excellent, or you may see this Irish girl turn from green to red.

Posted to the web by Lancaster Philips

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Kelly McKee

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