Looking In

Joyce Lee
Overlooking Florence, Italy at night.

As someone who has moved around the globe before college, I thought I had my adaptation skills down pat. However, I arrived in Europe unprepared for the culture shock. Finding your footing in a country hundreds of miles away from home is a daunting task. Add classwork, possibly an internship and an itch to explore, and you have the dilemma of adapting quickly while still trying to make the most of your semester abroad.

The most apparent difference — other than the change in location — is the decrease in campus size. Student populations are smaller in study abroad sites compared to New York’s campus. For Steinhardt sophomore Nivvy Balakumar, who is currently studying abroad in Prague, the more intimate class sizes are a positive aspect of the study away experience.

“Since NYU Prague is so much smaller, I’ve gotten to get to know a lot more people and see the same people more often,” Balakumar said. “It’s a lot easier to meet people and stay in touch with people here than [at the NYU] campus, which I really like.”

Balakumar also said that the atmosphere of Prague is unlike that of New York City. She perceived that people tend to keep to themselves more, and the pace is slower in comparison. Public transportation and city streets are quieter as well — something Balakumar hasn’t gotten used to yet.

On the other hand, Rory Meyers College of Nursing sophomore Ceci Chen finds Madrid to be similar to New York City in its lively nightlife and city bustle. The social culture, however, is vastly different.

“Eating lunch at 2:30 p.m. and dinner at 8:30 p.m. is a thing here,” Chen said. “Mealtimes can last two hours since the people here are very sociable and more relaxed. Restaurants even let you sit there and talk until you ask for the check.

In addition to an unfamiliar culture, language barriers also hinder a smooth transition. In Prague, younger locals are more likely to speak in English, but it’s not always a guarantee. CAS sophomore Adelynne Chang said that language barriers made her adjustment difficult at first, especially with everyday tasks like grocery shopping.

“Linguistically, the [Czech] language has so many differences and everyone speaks very quickly, so it’s hard to pick out the words and phrases you do know,” Chang said. “But, taking [language classes] helps.”

Though not all NYU study abroad sites mandate language courses, most still offer classes in local languages, which may help in creating a more culturally immersive experience.

Balakumar, Chen and Chang all stressed the importance of exploring, especially with peers who are also figuring out where and how they fit into the new environment.

“Going on walks around the neighborhood I live in has helped me adjust to Prague and really appreciate where I live,” Balakumar said. “Give yourself time to adjust because moving or living abroad, culture shock or not, is still a big change. My second tip would be to try to experience your abroad site with your friends because experiencing it with people going through the same thing as you makes adjusting a lot easier.”

Read more from Washington Square News’ Abroad feature.

Email Joyce Lee at [email protected]

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