Before I left for a semester abroad in Bonn, Germany my junior year of college, I learned about culture shock. In a mandatory pre-trip orientation, a zany, somewhat obnoxious staff member of the international office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison warned us that the novelty of living in a foreign country would wear off. She said the differences between American and German culture might make us confused, angry or even depressed.
I largely ignored her ranting, mostly because I thought she was wacky. This notion solidified when she drew a bar graph of what it’s like to be drunk in a place that you’re unfamiliar with compared to at home. She explained that the general confusion you feel as a foreigner speaking second language magnifies the effects of inebriation.
“So when you’re tipsy in Germany, it’s more like you’re actually drunk and when you’re drunk it’s like being piss-pants drunk back home,” she wailed, pointing to her crotch as if we didn’t know what pants were. “Next thing you know, you’re saying ‘um die Ecke’ to give someone directions. Little do you know that it’s slang for homosexual and some German dude beats you up for calling him gay!”
Now, two years later, I find myself wishing someone had prepared me for a whole new kind of cultcha shawck. I recently graduated college and moved from Wisconsin to Boston and I am discovering that both are difficult transitions worthy of documenting. Although I don’t feel “piss-pants drunk” every time I drink a Narragansett—the east coast version of PBR—I often do find myself confused, angry and slightly depressed at the changes my new life brings.
And so, I’m doing what my generation does to cope with problems; I’m blogging.
Rather than starting another blog or re-purposing the one I wrote during both stints in Germany, I decided to join this one. I like being a part of a community of writers. Plus, I totes know the editor since we were both recipients of the same scholarship that let us spend last summer as roommates in Berlin interning for German media outlets.
As your newest correspondent for Nomad News, I will be covering the Beantown beat, writing from the perspective of a Midwesterner who has traveled east—a Sconnie turned Coastie, if you will. As a former ArtsEtc reporter and columnist for my college newspaper, The Badger Herald, I am most interested in making cultural observation and reviewing films, TV shows and music. In my posts, I hope to create an outsider’s guide to Boston through the lens of someone who is also making sense of the post-college world.
A Wisconsinite’s (slightly unfavorable but gradually improving) take on Boston
I will be honest; at first I did not have a very favorable view of Boston. Beyond the city’s beauty—it really is gorgeous—I could not quite see why everyone raves so much about this place. The trains are infuriatingly inefficient. Strangers are not friendly. No one seems to care about you if you’re not from the east coast. Acquaintances don’t want to take the next step to being your friend—especially girls. Money matters way too much. It’s like high school all over again, only with a lot more New Balance sneakers.
Culture shock had gotten the best of me.
On top of it all, I struggled to figure out how exactly I am supposed to function outside the cushy bubble of school. (Cue Simon and Garfunkel now.) Sure, I have a decent job working as the Communications Coordinator for a nonprofit, but what I am supposed to do with all this free time? Where are the cool seniors with flashy flyers begging me to join their social, academic or athletic clubs? (Why won’t this moving sidewalk STOP?)
Then I decided I needed to stop being so melodramatic. By blaming Boston and its inhabitants for my rocky transition to the real world, I took no responsibility for my happiness. Instead, I did a lot of moping and complaining about how people here are too pretentious. Just short of calling everyone phonies to their faces, I was acting like Holden Caulfield. I really was.
However, now I am easing out of my culture shock and my angsty phase in favor of finding ways to make Boston feel like my city in the same way Madison, Bonn and Berlin will always feel like home. I am also making a conscious effort to discover what it takes to be an interesting person in a post-school world where there are no organized, school-sponsored clubs begging for my membership.
In fact, for my next post, I will be detailing how I decided on a whim that I would start taking beginning ballet classes despite my utter lack of grace or ballet knowledge. (That’s supposed to be a tantalizing preview to trick you into reading what I write next. Hope it works!)
So great that you’re blogging on Caitlin’s blog :) It will be interesting to read new perspectives from two creative individuals on different sides of the globe. Altogether, I’d say it was a successful first post. Quirky, quick, snarky – everything a “Me Generation” blog should be.
However, since every writer wants to hear how they’ve impacted someone, I want you to know that your words have resonated with me personally. I constantly feel lost in this huge city with hardly a sense of purpose or direction and I’ve been on the East Coast a considerably shorter time than you. What you have going for you, in particular, is a partner with which you can share your misfortunes, misguidance, and frustration, so I would count that as a win if I were you. I’m struggling to get involved in the absence of an institution and the times I’ve tried, I’ve felt as though no one really appreciates my presence because I’m not from here. I, like you, have recognized that I hold the keys to my own sense of belonging. It’s actually quite funny, because part of me wonders how I assimilated so successfully into the German society when I went to high school there that by the end of my exchange year, no one could realize independently that I was a foreigner, much less American. I need to find the strength and resilience of my (youth?) that seems to have been tarnished. Thanks for showing me that someone else feels the same way. I appreciate it.
To everyone else: I realize that no one ever signs up for these long comments and that it’s entirely typical for our generation to vomit our entire sense of being outward for the entire world to gaze upon. I leave you with this statement, which encompasses the Zeitgeist of our generation: READ MY THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS BECAUSE I MATTER AND I’M IMPORTANT AND YOU’RE GOING TO KNOW IT.