Culture shock is something that you can’t really prepare for. And it’s typically something that you aren’t warned about when you attend an out-of-state school.
I moved from Washington, D.C. to the middle of Missouri.
I moved from the land of government-issued black suburbans and national monuments to a state filled with cornfields, chili cheese corn dogs and cow patty bingo. Not sure what that last one is? Trust me, I think it’s better you lived your whole life without knowing. Ignorance is bliss.
Let me first say that although I was dropped off in a foreign college town in mid-Missouri, it was not my first rodeo being in the Midwest. My family hails from Kansas, so it wasn’t my first time going to a flyover state. This definitely made my transition a bit easier than some of my other city-slicker friends who chose schools in otherwise-rural areas.
However, that’s not to say that it took a fair bit of adjusting for me to fully “assimilate” into Midwestern culture.
My Midwest friends are probably laughing at this article by this point, but culture shock is real—even in a state like Missouri. During the beginning of my freshman year, I oftentimes thought I stood out too much for the way I dressed or the way I talked. I felt like an outsider. It took settling in my friend group to feel more comfortable at school.
If you are still adjusting to a new place at your school, my first piece of advice would be to ask a lot of questions. Ask your friends about their upbringings, ask upperclassmen about their favorite places around town and ask locals about the history of the town or city you now live in. The more knowledge you have about your new surroundings, the easier you can relate to it and understand it.
Maybe you will even feel inspired to interact with the local community through a community group.
Another important lesson I learned my freshman year was to say “yes” to as many things as you can—but all in good reason, of course. Going out of your comfort zone and participating in activities with friends that you wouldn’t normally do back home makes a great way to break through your culture shock a bit more.
During my freshman year, I did everything from taking road trips with my friends to small, sleepy towns in nowhere Missouri to going on a double date to partake in zombie safari paintball during Halloween season. The further I got out of my comfort zone, the more fun I had.
I would argue that this rule isn’t even exclusive to culture shock in college. Wherever you end up going to school, put yourself out there and get a bit vulnerable.
The friend group I found really helped me get past my culture shock freshman year. Not only did I find a strong friend group in my freshman year dorm, but I also made friends through my classes and my other extracurricular activities. They allowed me to feel at home and weren’t bashful about educating me about all that is the Midwest.
They allowed me to ask them stupid questions (i.e. “What is cow patty bingo?”) and caught me up on “Midwestern slang”—which, quite frankly, I didn’t even know existed.
Words like “Ope” and “Puppy Chow” were not in my lexicon before I got to Mizzou.
By the same token, another piece of advice I wish I could tell my younger self would be to not be afraid to stand out, either. Sometimes, standing out can be good—no matter how uncomfortable you may feel at the time.
Countless times people complimented me on my outfit choices or seemed impressed when I told people where I was from. When you don’t stick to the status quo, people remember you for your boldness and uniqueness. In short, being 100 percent you is okay, too.
Experiencing culture shock helps you find your people, follow your interests and find yourself. It may feel weird or scary at the time. But ultimately, it’s another perk (and privilege) or pursuing a higher education.