Reverse Culture Shock: How I’ve Changed in the US

After seven months of exploring, enjoying, adapting, torturing…. in the U.S., I finally went back to my home country, China! What was waiting for me there was the incredibly great city of Beijing, yummy Chinese food, old friends who I missed so much, my college, which is my favorite place in the world…and some CULTURE SHOCKS. Yes, I experienced the so-called reverse culture shock in the place where I lived for 20 years.

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Renmin University in Beijing, by Flickr user chenyingphoto

Over-friendly

The first culture shock I got after landing in Beijing was about saying hi. In China, people seldom say hi to strangers like the airport clerk, waiters in restaurants or sale associates in shopping malls. That is very different from what it is like in the U.S.

I definitely forgot this tradition after I got out of the plane and said hello to the customs officer in the airport. What made things worse was that I said “hi” rather than “Ni Hao 你好” in Chinese. He stared at me weirdly for a few seconds until I suddenly knew what was going wrong. I just pretended nothing had happened and did not say anything later.

In China, people do say hi but in a low voice and usually without a smile. So when I say hello with my American way, which is with a big smile on my face and a passionate voice, people in my home country really need a few seconds to react.

Don’t you feel cold?

The weather in Beijing is as severe as it is in New York City. I guess amazing cities always have terrible weather – except Los Angeles, which is where I live in America. While I was there, the temperature actually dropped to near 0 °F (-18 C) in Beijing. In America, I developed a habit of putting ice in almost every drink I order, which is opposite to the eastern wisdom about health. My friends were surprised when I asked the waiter to put ice into my Coke, when everybody already felt freezingly cold.

I have not figured out what changes took place in my body while in the U.S.; I remember I always went with hot green tea before studying abroad, even in the hot and humid summer in Beijing.

I am out-of-date

It should have been very easy and comfortable for me join chat with my friends in China – I was finally surrounded by people speaking my native language. But on a few occasions I found myself getting lost in the talk.

Why? Because I do not know the meaning of some popular phrases that come from Chinese online communities. Some of the expressions are very funny, but it’s hard to figure out their real meaning, even if you grew up speaking Chinese. For example, my friends use the term “buying soy sauce” to mean “it is none of my business.” This term actually comes the sex photo scandal of Edison Chen, a Hong Kong pop star. When a reporter asked an ordinary citizen of Guangzhou, China for his thoughts about that scandal, the man said that he was just going out to buy some soy sauce, and the event had nothing to do with him. His reply was considered as a creative refusal on expressing personal opinions and spread out quickly.

Another example is that the name “50 Cent Party” refers to people who are paid to post positive reviews of an online store or other posts which give a particular opinion. This one is even more puzzling, right? Most of the internet pop phrases come from some particular news event and then get used on a variety of occasions. Being away from Chinese online community for over half a year, I have to interrupt the fast-moving talk by asking what the meaning of this or that is to catch up with the talk.

American makeup

Besides those obvious changes mentioned above, several minor changes have also been detected by some of my friends, although I cannot agree on all that they said.

One of my girlfriends said that I look like an American Chinese girl a little bit, because of my heavy makeup and natural skin tone. Although I do not really agree with her findings, I prefer the American way of doing makeup, which is to create a feminine and sexy look, over the Chinese way of aiming for an innocent look. When I was strolling round the campus of my old college in China, I felt like the girls there looked so young – like high school students! Maybe that is because I got used to seeing too many attractive blondes at USC, and now encounter some slight difficulties in appreciating traditional eastern beauty.

The level of change I’ve gone through so far in the U.S. is within my expectation, although I do not know how much further it will go : ). I hope to have more smooth transitions between the American and Chinese culture as time goes by, instead of being constantly shocked and re-shocked as I am right now. But I love everything that happens to me in the U.S., because it is just what we international students are looking for from the experience of studying abroad.

8 comments

  1. Hey, is really good to experience different culture, how i wish I am in position of that kind of experience you had in US via China. (Tara)

  2. I am a father of a son and a daughter hold a dream for my children to make them be America but helpless.

    1. There are many resources for scholarship,
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    1. Thank Amy.

      I am so happy to hear that my post put smile on your face, and your comment made me smile. : )

      Welcome to check back here. : )

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