These challenges won’t apply to everyone. Ireland has become very Americanised over the past twenty years or so and having been to the U.S. previously, either on holidays or on research trips, I didn’t really experience culture shock. Nevertheless, these are the challenges that I faced when I first arrived in North Carolina.
Homesickness is, unfortunately, inevitable. No matter how excited you are about your new venture, you will miss your friends, family and home comforts. However, as sure as I am that you will experience homesickness at some stage during your time abroad, I am equally sure that you will come out of it. At the Gateway Orientation Program, we were warned that all cultural exchange students go through periods of highs and lows – sort of like a roller-coaster. But for every low point, there’s a high point! When I first got to North Carolina I experienced homesickness almost immediately. I didn’t know anybody and because I’m not taking any classes (I’m conducting independent research) I was worried that I wouldn’t make any friends. Fortunately, it’s actually very easy to make friends here, provided you’re willing to put in the effort. Within the first week I signed up with the UNC Boxing Club and got in touch with the Graduate History Society so I got to meet loads of new people. If you sit at home and don’t reach out then you probably won’t make too many new friends, so it really is important to put yourself out there. Meeting new people helped to solve my homesickness problem but if it’s plaguing you, this website offers some really good strategies to deal with homesickness.
In Ireland the weather can be pretty miserable. Our winters are dark, drab and grey and although we get some bright, sunny days in the spring and summer, the temperatures rarely peak above the mid-twenties – Celsius that is. So when I first came to North Carolina I loved the bright sunny mornings. That is until noon hit. I learnt the hard way not to walk to the store between 12 noon and 2pm. The humidity is a killer! Once, I even got sunburned walking ten minutes to the shop! Now that it’s October, I’m getting a good insight into what hurricane season is like in NC. Hurricane Joaquin is on the horizon and it’s been raining for the past week, pretty much non-stop. When the rain first began I noticed that so many people wore wellies! I found this hilarious until I couldn’t walk to the library without stepping into very deep puddles. I now plan on investing in a pair of wellies!
NOT HAVING A CAR
I love my car. I miss my car. Here in NC, I’m very, very lucky to have found an amazing apartment so close to everything on campus. Pretty much everywhere is within walking distance. Except for the grocery store. It’s actually only about a thirty minute walk away but I have to make sure that I time it correctly because there is nothing worse than walking that distance (in jeans) in the humidity. I speak from experience! My rule of thumb is not to use a basket while shopping and to only buy whatever my two hands can carry. This ensures that I’m not logging heaving bags all the way home – again, I speak from experience! There are buses, but they are so infrequent that it’s sometimes easier to walk…
This might seem like a silly one but American currency can be very confusing! First of all, a wad of dollars makes you feel like you’re loaded when you’re actually not. Boo. 😦 And don’t get me started on the coins. What’s a dime and why is a five cent coin bigger that a ten cent coin!? Aragh. This can be very frustrating when you’re trying to pay for your coffee and a very large queue is forming behind you. Thankfully, most places accept card, even if you’re only buying a bottle of water. I’ll admit, having to swipe instead of entering a pin did take a bit of getting used to too! You can’t swipe too fast and definitely not too slow. But I’m a pro swiper now! 🙂
I know that I’m very lucky that these are the only challenges I’ve faced in the U.S. Some of my friends from around the world have definitely experienced culture shock, particularly because of the language barrier. My fellow Fulbrighters and I have all remained in contact because it’s important to have a strong network of support. If you’re finding living abroad challenging, never be afraid to reach out to someone. Even if they’re not going through the same thing, they’re sure to offer kind words of support and sometimes that’s all you need.