To say I am excited about this Switzerland vacation…oops…study abroad, will be the understatement of the year! I am super hyper excited about this opportunity and often, catch myself smiling at the thought. At the age of 22, I watched every American movie I could lay my hands on and packed some of my belongings, ready for the new experiences and confident that I will thrive since movies really can answer every question I have about America….duuuh! Armed with vast knowledge about America, thanks to the movies and by talking to everybody I knew who had ever been to America, I was sure the term ‘culture shock’ will not be in my vocabulary. Boy, was I shocked! Movies lie, people, movies never tell the truth or even prepare you for the truth! Knowing better now after about 6 years in America, I know that my expectations about this trip will be different from my realities over there. This is my way of preparing for the culture shock… preparing to be shocked.
But I really don’t learn. I still have some expectations about Europe. I think that Switzerland, like the rest of Europe, will be somewhat like my country Ghana. I have been accused of behaving in a very British way, since I came to America. I have come to realize that the English influence on Ghanaians is stronger than I thought and that 60 years of independence is not enough time to erase that kind of influence. I am hoping that Switzerland will have some semblance to Great Britain and therefore, I can blend in much easier and faster than I did in America.
I am excited to experience the pace of their lifestyles, I find America to be a lonely fast traveled road. I have a fascination with bathrooms and how bathroom culture keeps evolving. Not long ago, I was carrying buckets of water to the bathroom for flushing, but before I became a teenager, that practice was almost outdated where I lived. I started pulling down a lever to flush and then I realized later that I could also press down a button to flush. In America, I discovered the use of air dryers in bathrooms to dry my hands and how different these dryers could look and operate. I have also realized that for some strange reason, bathroom doors almost always have some sophistication to them. I have had the privilege of attending conferences in major cities in North America and have unfortunately spent a considerable amount of time, trying to give myself some privacy in bathrooms. I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to experiencing Swiss bathrooms!
Having spoken English all my life and being touted as one of the best English students in my school, I was strangely surprised when I kept having to repeat myself almost every time I spoke in America. Frustratingly, I found myself having the need to record my lectures to play back for clarity (yes I know I watched a lot of movies to prepare me for this part!). I am expecting to be astonished to hear a different kind of the same English language, not only in the enunciation of words but also the ways words are strung together into sentences. It will also be nice to see my American colleagues be baffled like I was when I first came to America, and will be, by the way people speak in Switzerland (hello Americans!).
I am looking forward to seeing some famous monuments and museums given the great European culture and history. I expect to be thrilled by the university structures and architecture. I am looking forward to being lost and adjusting to new bearings. My study area is in Geospatial and Environmental Analysis so direction and spatial information intrigues me. This fascination however does not make me immune to getting lost and being frustrated about it. I like the thrill of having to navigate in new places without asking for directions so I am definitely looking forward to the sense of hopelessness that comes with being lost. I am really not keen on having to adjust to a new temperature gradient. I come from a country where the weather was one of the most consistent things about nature. After living in America for 6 years, I am still not used to the weather’s inconsistency and so I am not thrilled about the games that the Swiss weather will be playing with us.