Getting used to the American way of life

When I first arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater I was expecting a lot of unfamiliar habits that I had to adjust to.

Fortunately, we had a lot of help to get adjusted to the new situation by our Global Ambassadors, who were organizing a lot of introduction presentations from a lot of different sections all around campus. This helped a lot with the academic and the living integration. But there were also a lot of surprises that I was confronted with during the remainder of my stay. For example, it is self-evident for American universities to have their own campus police. Those police men and women are not only patrolling through and around campus but are also regularly walking through the hallways of the resident halls; especially between Thursdays and Saturdays. The main reason for that is the controlling of the alcohol consuming in the dorms. The drinking age in the US is 21. So when the campus police is walking through the hallway and they hear loud noises they usually knock on the dorm door to control everybody’s ID card to make sure that nobody is underaged. It was definitely something that I had to get used to. Even though I never got in trouble with the police I always felt kind of controlled and watched the first few weeks into the semester. That went away quite fast because I got used to it. But there is definitely not that kind of police control in Switzerland.

This experience definitely helped me with the understanding of cultural differences. When I talked to American students about the police they weren’t bothered at all. They are used to it because a lot of high schools even have one or two police officers in their buildings. I was really surprised about that, but I also realized that it gives not only the students but also the parents of the students a feeling of security. There were also a lot of “Emergency Buttons” all around campus which you can push in case of an emergency. In my opinion this kind of overview is valued very differently in the US and in Switzerland. What might be irritating or disturbing in Switzerland might be a normal habit in American colleges.

This was by far not the only time I was faced with an unfamiliar situation during my stay, but it shows that getting used to something new takes some time and an open mindset. And some of those habits you might learn over night like to talk with strangers in an elevator about how your day was, which is quite usual in an American college. Other habits may take longer for you to adjust.

It is very difficult to be in a situation you have never been confronted with before and I definitely changed my view on such cultural differences and how I approach them. The biggest challenge for me wasn’t really the familiarization of unfamiliar habits but more to avoid habits that are normal for me but are totally inappropriate or unnecessary in the US. These situations also made me realize that you can’t go to another country and just expect a smooth transition. There might be a surprisingly big number of things that are handled the same but more often than not there are going to be situations where you are faced with something unfamiliar that you have to deal with. But with the right mindset and expectations there is no doubt that you can adapt to unfamiliar habits. I always liked to compare it to learning a new language. There are a lot of things that might be similar but also a lot that is new. It is more or less the same with cultural differences. It is a learning process that you have to go through.

Dominik Roth

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