By Monica Fang from Fudan University
I still remember the moment when I took the interview of MCM a few months ago and was asked why I wanted to go to Austria, I tried to be ‘serious and academic’ by saying that I wanted to experience all phases of cross-cultural communication, from honey moon period, to cultural shock period, then move on to adaptation and adjustment period.
Time really flies when we are having fun. I’ve been here in Salzburg for a month. One important thing I learn here is that the four periods might not follow a time sequence. They are mixed together and come ‘randomly’ with everyday life. ‘Culture’ doesn’t necessarily refer to the big topic we should always discuss with one hundred percent of concentration and seriousness. Rather, the component parts of culture lie in every corner of our daily life.
Walking along the river on my way for class or jogging, I see waterfowls floating on the flowing river, leaves fall with winds and change colors, fogs come and go covering different parts of the distant mountains…Every time when I sense the vitality and dynamic part of this old city, the freshness and surprise always brings me the new desire to explore and adventure more of this city. I guess this is exactly the feeling of honey moon period.
However, cultural shock mainly comes from the difference in lifestyle. This morning, our dorm managers Jennifer and Gustav came to us and told us that we shouldn’t hang our clothes to dry in our toilet, because the moist caused mould spots on the wall and ceiling, which is very terrible. We didn’t notice the mould spots before and felt very sorry about it. Luckily, the mould spots are cleaned and removed thanks to the effort of Gustav. Yet the more terrible thing for us is, when we tried to fix the problem, we found that there is nowhere to hang our clothes to dry except using the drying machine. But we never use a drying machine in China! At that moment, my roommate Sha Cao and I were confused: Why do westerners like to use drying machines? It’s like a waste of beautiful sunshine! We guess Jennifer must think these two Chinese girls were so weird: Why don’t Chinese girls use drying machines? It’s like a waste of time and labor! At last, after a long talk with Jennifer, we decide to buy a clothes airer and put it in the common laundry room to hang our clothes to dry. It brings inconvenience to our neighbors, and others might see our clothes, which might cause embarrassment, but it’s the only way.
In my sense, cultural shock is never a real ‘shock’, although sometimes annoyance and astonishment does linger on. It’s more like a collision, breaking the door of my small narrow room of horizon, only then I can get deeper understanding about the inevitable existence of cultural difference and the diverse world different cultures create.
Adaptation and adjustment always happen after talking with local friends, in which case the Common Kitchen is the best place to go. After fixing the mould spots problem, we brought up with a German girl about the clothes drying thing in the kitchen. Last time, when Sha and I failed to make a traditional Chinese pancake, she borrowed our powder and kindly made three German pancakes for us. By talking with her, we suddenly found that girls are quite the same beyond our nationalities: not willing to share a drying machine with boys, don’t want others to see our clothes and we actually share the same way of hanging clothes to dry. Another ‘surprising’ discovery is that, maybe all students around the world are quite the same in hiding some small electric appliances from the sight of dorm managers. The only difference might be that Chinese students hide rice cookers and electromagnetic ovens while western students hide toasters and coffee machines. Kitchen chatting while cooking is always fascinating. We get to know that sometimes people from different countries do the same thing with different reasons while sometimes we do different things with same reasons. The important thing is, there are always more similarities than differences between us and knowing about this might be the best starting point of adaptation and adjustment.
Once I watched a TED speech entitled ‘Life of Immersion’ by Jacqueline Novogratz. In her light, life of immersion is a life with constant concentration and pursuit of a goal, no matter it’s big or small, short-term or long-term. That’s why this long and boring article is called ‘life of immersion’. I think I’m also leading a life of immersion here in Salzburg, by trying to impart a Chinese lifestyle in a Austria scene as well as impart an Austria thinking in a Chinese mind.