The College Culture Shock

Imagine you are a Freshman, just about to start your first exciting semester at William and Mary. You are ready to meet new people, gain new insights and learn important lessons for life. Quite possibly, you are also likely to do insanely stupid things, embarrass yourself in front of people that will eventually become your best friends, and set off the fire alarm at least once at some point during your college career.

Now imagine you are said Freshman, but for some strange reason, you are trapped in the body of a teacher. To make it even worse: a German teacher. People will suddenly come up to you and expect you to know stuff. They assume that you have had college in your blood for decades, that you can answer all their questions about credit points, assignments and German grammar. As they walk behind you along the Sunken Gardens, they assume that you are entering Tucker Hall because that is exactly where you want to go (even if you are only hoping to find a campus map there that tells you where the Sadler Center is). When they happen to see you staring at the menu at Quiznos, they might assume that you forgot your glasses, even though you just keep scanning the menu for food you know.

If you can imagine what that would be like, you have a pretty good idea of what it is like to be a Language House Tutor at William and Mary.

We come from different countries all over the world and are here to teach students about our languages and cultures. Our jobs put us on the knowing side of things. Supposedly.

However, at the same time I – and possibly some of the other tutors as well – do not only experience the culture shock so typical for Non-Americans traveling to the US,  but also something that I would like to call college shock. It is like starting college as a Freshman and skipping orientation. It involves asking questions like: “Why are the police always here – don’t they have to work?” or “So if this is my bathroom, where do all the others take their shower?” In my case, it also includes a feeling of awe whenever I see a shop that is opened after 10pm, an element of gratitude whenever somebody says “Guten Tag” to me, and a rising curiosity whenever I hear people talk about American Football. There are small moments of happiness when you have solved yet another one of William and Mary’s mysteries, for example understanding that the “caf” is in fact the cafeteria (and not the “cough”, the appropriate name for the student health center), and that you do not have to fly to China if you are asked to come to the PRC.

It is confusing, fascinating and sometimes irritating. It is many more dumb questions lurking, plenty of confused looks about to be given, and an incomprehensible amount of embarrassing situations waiting to come up. It is intense, challenging and a lot of fun.

I’ll keep you posted.

Categories: Campus Life, Faculty & Staff Blogs, Study Away

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