Lost in Frenchlation

To begin with, I think it’s important to be aware that what I’m seeing and experiencing right now is but a very small part of the whole of French culture. Paris being a bustling European metropole, it doesn’t represent the more rural parts of France neither can it even be compared to other big cities in the country. There are a lot of French students coming from other parts of France like Lyon, Marseille, and Toulouse. Even for them, Paris is something else and I learned that the capital has a special status among French people.

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Lessons in Politeness

Since I was little, it has always been my dream to live in the USA. Probably influenced by too many Hollywood movies and American books, I wanted to experience studying at an American university and just living the American way of life. Honestly, I still cannot believe this is what I am actually doing. I left Switzerland on the 12th of January and flew to Laramie with a stopover in Denver. Laramie is the third biggest town in the state of Wyoming, the state with the second lowest population density after Alaska and the lowest number of citizens. Due to its small population and the vast natural landscape, the residents go through life more slowly and are very friendly, because in a town like this the residents know each other.  

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Volleyballs and cheerleaders flying through the air

Before arriving in Honolulu to study at the University of Manoa, Hawaii was like a country on its own in my head. Of course, I knew it belonged to the United States, nevertheless I was surprised to what extent it resembled the cities on the mainland, that I’ve already visited. Mostly because it is very car-dominated. However, what flabbergasted me the most was the way sport events are carried out here. A sport event here is not just a game between two teams in a discipline, it is a giant celebration on its own.

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Feeling at home 

When I landed in Sydney, I had no idea what to expect and how the next few months would be. I dove into the unknown which is a scary but also exciting feeling. I decided to just be open-minded and not have any expectations of how my semester abroad will be. I arrived at my accommodation at Wollongong, and I did not know anyone, I did not know how life there would be. Everything was unfamiliar to me.  

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The Culture of Bowing 

Recently I was watching the football World Cup match between Croatia and Japan. Although the Japanese national team lost dramatically on penalties, this did not prevent coach Hajime Moriyasu San from returning to the field and bowing before the crowd to thank them for their support. Clips of this moment have since gone viral on social media and people all over the world expressed their fondness for this gesture of respect. When I first watched it, I remember not even consciously noticing it and I think this shows how natural and almost obvious bowing feels to me after three months of living in Japan. I want to reflect on my journey and how this seemingly small practice has influenced me in day-to-day life and when trying to understand Japanese culture. 

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Ignorance is not bliss

If I have learned one thing in my first month living in Japan then that ignorance certainly is not bliss, especially when we are looking at culture. Cultures not only establish certain customs and social behaviors for the members of a particular group, but they also contain certain mechanisms on how people get accustomed to them. The latter part was what surprised and challenged me the most in my first month living in Japan.

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About discarded stereotypes and new friendships

Due to the current situation related to the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Swiss government recommended its citizens to temporarily leave Russia. I left Moscow on March 23 and therefore also my international as well as Russian fellow students in uncertain circumstances, feeling sorry for them.

At first, I traveled to Uzbekistan and stayed there for three weeks. In the following three weeks I also traveled through Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. I was able to benefit from my trip through Central Asia in an exceptional manner. Not only was I able to recover from the psychological, moral and governmental pressure that was on me in Russia, but was also able to explore Central Asia at the same time. I had been interested in this region for a long time, and the history courses at the HSE Moscow further aroused my interest in Central Asia. Hence, I wrote my first exam on Central Asia for the HSE Moscow from a restaurant in Buxoro, Uzbekistan. During my journey, I learned a lot about people, cultures, languages, and traditions in this region.

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Australia – a left-sided world

I barely did any research about what will expect me culturally in Australia before leaving Switzerland. I decided to just go there without any expectations, with an open mind and the willingness to just fully immerse myself in what I will experience there. One of the few things I knew about Australia before I arrived was that they drive on the left side of the road. This is something that stood out immediately upon arrival. However, I thought this would be the only “left-sided” thing, but I quickly realized that there are things and practices that are only visible after interacting and living with Australians.

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Friendly Frenzy

The first words you hear arriving in Australia are the following: “Hi! How are you?”. As somebody coming from a rather small town in Uri, being greeted by a stranger does not throw me off. But being asked about how I am doing right at the start of a random conversation is new even to me. Since it is not my first time in Australia, I should have known how they greet people but to be honest I still am kind of overwhelmed when I hear that somebody I have never seen before is asking about how I am doing. And the even bigger shock at my first encounter was that my counterpart actually seemed to care about what my answer will be. Having said that and not to draw a false picture, Sydney is a vibrant metropole and for sure, people don’t walk around, greeting every single human they pass. But they certainly ask for your current condition if you interact with them for whatever reason might be. 

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