Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 00:01
A couple of days before Christmas, I found myself over the Atlantic Ocean midway through a bumpy 11-hour return flight from Turkey, where I studied this fall. In the days and weeks leading up to my semester abroad, I had confronted the same confused smiles and strained comments from most of my relatives and friends at home when my destination came up in conversation: “Turkey … won’t that be … different? Aren’t you … nervous?” The truth was, I really wasn’t. Their skepticism probably stemmed from impressions of my host country’s supposed “exoticism,” which was grounded in archaic images of Ottoman sultans and roaming camels.
But maybe their concerns were more tangible: Before arriving, I think I knew three words of Turkish (“hello,” “food” and “please” — both polite and practical!), and I definitely couldn’t have told anyone much about Alanya, the tourist town that would become my home for four months. Nonetheless, Turkey turned out to be different from what I thought it would be — obviously — but in the most wonderful ways, and from my terribly uncomfortable position in seat 10J on my trans-Atlantic flight, I worried about “culture shock” for the very first time: the kind I would face when I set foot on U.S. soil and, more specifically, when I headed back to the Hilltop after four months’ absence.
Since my return, there have of course been inevitable changes in my routine. I’ve switched my cay for cups of Corp coffee and traded homemade meze for Leo’s lunch. Instead of carrying my books to the beach for a relaxed afternoon, I now pile them atop a well-worn table on Lau 3, where unwarranted anxiety is always palpable. (Seriously, it’s mid-January — should we even be in the library?) While once I had a living room view of the blue Mediterranean, now, when I lift my blinds here in the District, I see only the Village B courtyard.
Suddenly, my home at Georgetown also feels a little different. After spending a semester with 11 other students and three professors, the first few days of social interaction proved to be a new type of cultural adjustment. Furthermore, since I’ve been gone, an entirely new crop of freshmen has appeared on campus, making me feel old and also drastically reducing the number of familiar faces in Leo’s — quite the problem when you’re trying to schmooze your way into a valuable seat in the midst of the 6:30 p.m. rush hour.
But I think the real shift results not from geographical location but from mindset. The study-abroad culture engenders learning and traveling and experiencing new things without much serious consequence. “You’re only abroad once!” might not flow like YOLO, but it’s still something we tell ourselves. Back in the “real world,” however, I’m a second-semester junior, and the Georgetown culture didn’t become any less competitive while I was away.
Everyone around me juggles extracurriculars and loaded schedules — both noticeably absent from my last semester — with impeccable grace. I’m suddenly searching for summer internships and polishing my resume. I’m getting more LinkedIn e-mails than friend requests. (Confession: I’m not even sure how LinkedIn works; it just seems like a more pretentious Facebook, without the incriminating photos.)
Don’t get me wrong — I love Georgetown, especially its intensity. But our campus holds so much more than classrooms and club meetings, and D.C. has a little more to offer than internships. Spending a few months abroad may have opened my eyes to a “different” culture, but it also made me realize that I should probably get to know my own better here on the Hilltop.
This semester, I’ve decided to do just that: to explore new facets of the rich life here on campus (and to more closely observe the familiar ones), but also to ditch the Hilltop and head into the city when time here starts to stand still and life becomes a little boring. I hope I won’t find anything too shocking.
Audrey Wilson is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. CULTURE SHOCK appears every other Friday in the guide.