Say No to Culture Shocks & Hi to Culture Surprises

By Hui Wang

trafficOnce setting foot on a foreign country, it’s common to encounter culture shock, an experience that is neither exciting nor avoidable! A month ago, I was fully prepared to face numerous shocks in my new life in Raleigh, North Carolina. Nonetheless, the reality let me down in a good way–Instead of suffering from culture shocks, I was warmly welcomed by culture surprises.

Traffic rules in America turned out to be the biggest surprise for me. Before coming to Raleigh, I had lived in Beijing for five years. According to the latest national census, Beijing has a population of more than 21.7 billion, which is 13 times larger than Raleigh. The high population density leads to traffic pressure, and in turn affects drivers’ behaviors. Consequently, it’s not surprising at all to see drivers are not willing to let other cars or pedestrians go first if it is their turn to pass. I do not mean to criticize them for being mean or impatient. They are just used to rushing forward in the hustle and bustle of a metropolis like Beijing.

crossingWell, now in Raleigh, things are tremendously different! The first time I walked down the street on NC State campus, I noticed drivers’ behaviors went far beyond my imagination. Even though the red light was on when I was crossing the street, the driver signaled me to finish crossing before his car moved forward by waving to me through the windshield with a friendly smile. “What’s wrong with him?” I wondered, “Did I misunderstand the traffic light signals?” Filled with confusion, I consulted an American classmate, who proudly responded, “Here in Raleigh, the drivers have to yield the right of way to pedestrians anytime, anywhere.” That being said, it’s still challenging for me to get used to this new drive-pedestrian interaction. Whenever I was allowed to pass, especially in those moments when the light just turned red, my heart was fully filled with gratitude. The smiles and waving hand offer me a sense of bliss and security.

getlostKind help from strangers is another pleasant surprise for me. I still remember that evening three weeks ago when I went out for a walk to enjoy refreshing and humid air. After a while, I had trouble recognizing the direction and started to realize I was lost! To make it even worse, my cell phone was not set yet so I didn’t have a GPS with me. “What shall I do?” I asked myself, “Where shall I stay for tonight if I could not find my way home?” These horrible questions creeped me out. After several unsuccessful attempts, my blood ran cold.

Then I had to overcome my shyness and fears, and turned to strangers passing by for help as a last straw! This was unusual for me as I had always been taught to be cautious and alert to strangers. It was getting dark, and I could barely see any pedestrians nearby. I went up to a robust black man for direction. Having heard I was lost and unaware of where my community was, he kindly took out his phone and searched my place on the Google Map. I kept walking based on his direction until I got lost for a second time. But this time I became more optimistic and hopeful because I knew that anyone on the street was willing to spare no effort to help me out. Then I was back to my cozy home.

raleighResting on a sofa with a cup of hot water, I was lost in thought. If I was lost somewhere in China and reached to strangers for direction, they would show me the way. However, should they not able to tell the direction, they would throw me an honest but cold “Sorry” and stopped for no second. Seldom would they take out their phones to check it out for me. What a surprising contrast!

The culture shocks, which were supposed to overwhelm me, somehow turned into culture surprises. All these wonderful experiences let me fall in love with Raleigh! I will carry all the valuable culture surprises with me and act them out if I become the one who is driving or the one who is being asked the direction. GO WOLFPACK!

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