Outbound Exchange | #GlobalCitizen #CENETJ1
Cape Girardeau native Diane Langenfeld completed an internship at CENET from 2014-2015. Currently, Diane is pursuing her MBA at Southeast Missouri State University. Through her graduate program, Diane had the opportunity to spend the spring semester abroad. Diane returned to the U.S. in early June and agreed to share her experiences with CENET. Check out CENET’s interview with Diane below:
Why did you participate in an exchange program?
My mind goes all over the place when I think about my answer to this question. However, there is one resounding reason that seems to always creep to mind first: I felt suffocated by the mid-west American culture I had spent my whole life in. I had gone on a few short-term trips, all less than a month, but I never felt like it gave me any solid feel for a culture other than my own because I never left vacation mode. I simply wanted to experience something different.
What surprised you the most during your experience?
What surprised me most during my experience was the developing sense that the U.S. is where I “belong.” I thought my time abroad would result in such great memories and friendships that I would want to live overseas by the end of it all. However, only part of this came true. I DID make incredible memories with even more incredible people. But I did not gain a desire to live overseas. My understanding of other cultures grew immensely, the main goal of exchange programs, as did my realization that I am most comfortable in the md-west American culture. I no longer feel suffocated by the culture, because it turned out that being away from it allowed me to appreciate it.
Do you see the value of cultural exchange? If so, in what ways?
Can I get a “YES” times 100? If so, that is my answer. Spending an extended amount of time immersed in a culture other than your own teaches you many things. First and foremost, the art of adaptation. Things will be different. They will seem weird and wrong and make you uncomfortable. But once you figure out the differences and overcome them, it produces a great sense of accomplishment and independence. It also increases tolerance for other cultures and really people in general.
Has your exchange program changed your world view?
I don’t feel my world view has drastically changed. I was lucky to be raised by parents who taught me not only tolerance of others, but acceptance as well. What I have realized is that the United States lives in somewhat of a bubble. Other countries are far more concerned about what is happening here than we are concerned about what’s happening in other countries. I feel this is somewhat understandable as our country alone is comparable in size to the world’s smallest continent of Australia. However, Americans need to be aware of this and actively seek information on what is happening in other countries. After all, a decision made in a country that is only a small portion of our country’s size can have a profound effect on our country.
Do you think the world would be a more peaceful place if everyone experienced a new culture?
Without a doubt! I believe people can become so wrapped up in their own culture that they begin to think that anything done differently in another culture is wrong. This mindset can lead to feelings of superiority and, as a result, acceptance of others can easily diminish. Even experiencing just one other culture can show a person that these differences are not wrong, just different. If a person comes to that realization about just even one culture other than their own, there is potential they will realize this is true for all other cultures.
Did you encounter any perceptions/misconceptions about Americans?
I know that people I met had a certain perception of Americans. How? Because some of these people ended up becoming great friends of mine and directly shared their previous perceptions with me. Being brutally honest, the most common perceptions of Americans is that we are loud, materialistic and ignorant. I even had one friend tell me, “I never thought I could be friends with an American before I met you.” Though I can’t fully deny being loud at times (I’m a social butterfly, what can I say!?), I don’t like to think of myself as materialistic or ignorant. Unfortunately, some Americans do fit these characteristics which is why the perception is there, but I like to think that the people who encountered me during my time abroad now realize we are not all like this.
Culture shock is common. What advice would you give others about culture shock?
First, I feel I should stress that I studied overseas in a country that speaks my first language of English which I feel decreased the intensity of which I felt culture shock. But, nonetheless, I do have two main pieces of advice in coping.
- Realize it is normal and it will pass. Cliché, I know. But it is so true and if you’ve heard it time and time again, there is a reason for that. Just know it is temporary and be patient with yourself when facing struggles you encounter.
- Be prepared for people to look at you weird or even seem annoyed with you when you are trying to figure out cultural differences. I didn’t realize groceries stores there don’t provide bags for you. I didn’t know that bus tickets could only be purchased with coins. Both of these experiences resulted in some weird looks and annoyed workers. Looking back, I wish I had just brushed it off. Those people didn’t know my story and their opinions of me didn’t matter one bit at the end of the day. So always keep your head high in instances you feel unsure of yourself. You should feel proud of yourself for leaving your comfort zone and pity for them for not realizing a chance they could have made a foreigner feel welcome in their culture.
If you could do it again, would you?
100% YES! There is really no other way to answer this question other than without a doubt in my mind I would participate in my exchange program all over again.
CENET is non-profit organization located in the Marquette Tech District in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. CENET facilitates both inbound and outbound exchange programs, as well as local programs with an emphasis on international education and cultural exploration. If you are a student in the Cape Girardeau area and interested in studying abroad and/or learning a new language, contact CENET to explore your options.
Special thanks to Diane Langenfeld for sharing her experiences and serving as an advocate for international exchange programs.
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