Culture Shock

Sewanee: The University of the South. Photo courtesy of 

By Szonja Szurop
Contributing Writer

Sewanee has a pretty big international student community, and as a Hungarian freshman, I have had the opportunity to meet many amazing people from all over the world. I don’t use the phrase “all over the world” to praise the University’s diversity in a poetic, lofty way; I actually mean it.  We have students from China, Vietnam, Rwanda, Ethiopia, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and so on.

These facts sound impressive, right? But have you thought about the challenges of moving to a new country and starting a life out of nothing? Such a change could be described as culture shock: the feeling of disorientation caused by an unfamiliar way of life (according to every student’s knowledgeable friend, Google). It might be surprising, but it’s possible that you are going through or have been through the culture shock too, no matter your origins.

Although you might have not moved to a different country, and perhaps you simply drove a few hours to the Domain, Sewanee’s uniqueness and the overall college experience can evoke culture shock-like feelings in anyone. Let me prove my point with a few examples.

Animals: You are walking to your 8 a.m. calculus class on a sunlit Friday morning. You pass by Abbo’s Alley and suddenly… deer! You turn right at All Saints’, and unexpectedly…squirrels! Not to mention the starlit way back from the library or from any fraternity house, when the ground comes alive with hares, opossums, and skunks. And, if you are less lucky, snakes too.

For me coming from a big city, this was especially surprising, as I have only seen exotic animals in a zoo. Of course, there are nice and less dangerous examples of the fauna too. It’s easy to spot the local celebrities (dogs) from the crowd petting them.

Small talk: This is a small community, so you get to know everyone sooner or later. Even if you don’t, strangers are always open to quick conversations about the weather or individual’s conditions. “How are you?” is used as a form of greeting here, and you should never answer it with more than a word, or so goes the unwritten rule.

Imagine my surprise when I tried to actually describe my feelings to pedestrians who left without listening. In Hungary, if you take the effort to ask questions, you indicate your intention to make a conversation, so not stopping is considered to be rude. Also, let’s not forget about the other chit-chat essentials like “Have a nice day,” “See you” and “Peace up” either.

Hogwarts adjacent: The gothic architecture of the campus is mesmerizing; there are no other words. The creepy Hogwarts-esque paintings of professors and graduate students make me stop and think about a password to be let into my dorm. We have ghosts, too, definitely. What’s that, if not shocking?

If you find these cases just as surprising as me, there’s no question that you got the Sewanee newbie shock. Don’t worry, the symptoms will lessen in time, according to doctors. What is more, in a few months you won’t be able to imagine your life without Sewanee and all its unique/weird customs.