Penn Global Seminars Clicks of Culture Shock

May 8, 2019
By Pearl Subramanian, CAS '19

PGS - Environmental Health Issues and Global Implications
Travel to China

When I used to think about culture shock, I had always perceived it to be one-sided, something that usually Americans experienced as they jetted off to new places. Someone would land in a foreign country, be overwhelmed by the different clothing, language, and foods. They would be shocked at the fact that there was no toilet paper in the bathrooms, they had to boil water before drinking it, and take their shoes off before entering a home.

I never expected it to be the other way around, until I completed my Penn Global Seminar in Shanghai and Nanjing, China.

Upon landing in Shanghai, I couldn’t help but notice all the smiling faces staring at our group from the moment we arrived at the airport. At every place we went, people would come up and ask us questions about why we were there, what we were studying, and what we thought about their home.

My favorite experiences were when women would hand me their babies, school children would gather around us and take photos, and grandparents would take selfies. I got to know many people simply by posing for a picture or answering a question. I had never been to a country or had an experience which made me realize the people in the places you visit are just as curious about you as you are about learning about them.

Pictures aside, this two way culture shock was unique and memorable. It reminded me to be cognizant of the spaces that I entered, that the country I was visiting was not my own, and to be respectful of the people and places who have graciously agreed to let me see their world.

After the nights spent in Tian Zi Fang sharing stories about our lives, the “off the book” guided tours, mid-day karoke sessions, and WeChat friend requests, there’s only piece of advice I have for anyone going abroad: Take as many pictures as you can, whether they are on your camera or not. At the end of the day, we are all just people trying to learn as much as we can about each other and this beautiful world we live in.  

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Penn Global Seminars combine intensive semester-long study with a short-term travel component that deepens your understanding of concepts discussed in the classroom. Courses options are available for Penn undergraduate students across majors and years.