The Best Kind of Culture Shock

Alexis Besch is a student at the Oklahoma Baptist University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Prague, Czech Republic.

There is a stage that comes in every study abroad student’s experience where the shiny, exploring view of the host culture wears thin. For a lot of people, this brings a frustration with every-day attributes of the culture. Some of my friends in this stage have complained about how the food here is always too rich or how the tram drivers will literally shut the doors on you if you don’t move fast enough. I certainly had these moments of frustration, but I found that the wearing off of the “shiny new phase” has also allowed me to really be content with my place as a passerby in Prague and to witness the values of the Czech locals from an outside perspective.

The role of an outsider probably seems fairly unattractive. It always has to me, and it is something I dread in those moments when I think that a local will realize I’m American and I will automatically be deemed an outsider. However, remembering my goal to be content with where and who I am, I’ve found that an outsider perspective can be a great way to observe and better understand the Czech culture.

For instance, if I had not been content to be an outsider in an almost entirely local population, then I would have not had the opportunity to experience the amazing moment of culture shock I experienced this past weekend. Friday through Sunday was the celebration period for the 100th year anniversary of the Czechoslovakian Independence. There are tons of festivities for this national holiday that were celebrated in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Through all of these events, I began to realize how important Czech nationalism is to the people. It is something that brings the Czech people together like no other and their passion for their country is a value that all of them can agree upon and share. The unity amongst this people group was beautiful to witness at the Rudolfinum Music and Arts Auditorium as the Czechoslovakian National Anthem opened the classical music concert, one of the several weekend festivities. The whole auditorium was filled with locals and the entire introduction of the conductor and the meaning behind his work was spoken in Czech.

Thus, I was entirely immersed in their culture with almost no American anchor to hold onto. However, this wasn’t an anguishing experience in which I was publicly embarrassed because of my differences. Rather, this was a truly shocking revelation I had on my own while surrounded by unknowing locals. What was so shocking was the ability to see a cohesive picture of an important part of Czech culture without the influence of tourists or foreigners. Czech people are often very private with personal information, including what they’re passionate about. So being surrounded by hundreds of locals, all expressing their passion for their country was enough to completely blow me away. With this opportunity, I could feel perfectly content with being set apart because I had the opportunity to see and understand the differences between my passions and theirs.



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