My experience of culture shock as an international student in Wales
Stepping out of the London Heathrow airport, I recall the adrenaline rush in my body and slight goosebumps on my arms.
I had travelled for over eleven hours carrying all the inhibitions, doubts and excitement along. As I located the Cardiff University’s welcome team, I was ready to reach Cardiff and taste the true essence of freedom. The eighteen-year-old me was ready to fly.
My first day in Cardiff was a rollercoaster of emotions, as I was missing my family but was excited to experience a new culture.
I went to a restaurant on Queen’s street and sat there on the table waiting for the waiter to come and take my order but after receiving some odd looks from the people around, I raised my hand and said, “I am ready to order!”.
Their baffled look explained I had done something unexpected. I got up and went to the counter to ask how I could place the order. I was asked to pay even before I received my food, which first got me thinking of the diversity I was about to experience.
As I got out and started walking towards my accommodation, I saw people smile at me and I thought maybe being a foreigner in a country gets you this attention.
It took me a couple of days to fully unpack and settle in, and I clearly remember wondering how I could get groceries at home without walking so much. All the apps which offered to do so were expensive and I thought I’ll walk into the first grocery store, ask for the manager’s number and directly place the order with him to get it delivered in the future.
Little did the 18-year-old me realize how hilarious this conversation was going to be.
“Sorry, but I do not understand what you are trying to say!” said the confused manager at Tesco.
My friend who joined me right after clarified that they had hardly any relation with delivering groceries.
Back home in India, you develop a very personal relationship with the store staff and give them a call whenever you need something and it is delivered at your door without any additional charges.
In India, there was always a hesitant relationship between a teacher and a student but attending my first lecture made me realise the importance of having a healthy relationship with your teachers.
I felt that there were never ‘too many’ questions you could ask or give a wrong answer in class, which motivated me to engross myself more into academic work. This eventually encouraged me to build relationships with my classmates.
Meaning of friendship
Nonetheless, I faced a major cultural shock when I realised the different interpretation of a community and meaning of friendship in the Indian and the Welsh Culture. For instance, all my flatmates are from different parts of Europe and I have hardly even seen them cook together. In fact most of them enjoy cooking alone.
Whereas, back in India you cook your meals together. You share your meals and have conversations over dinners every day; be it with your friends or family.
Though here in Wales people often like to keep to themselves, they will show up for you whenever and wherever possible.
Indian culture promotes the feeling of community and togetherness at all times; so much so that in Wales not having people to check up on you every day feels odd sometimes. This is also reflected in the family dynamics of people in Wales. Most Welsh students I know seem closer to their parents as friends. It seems more common for young people to move out from their parents’ house and into the world in their early twenties
The opposite happens in India, where parents want their children around them, even after they start working or get married.
The connection, the shelter and the feeling of belonging an Indian community provides is unparalleled since everyone has been brought up with the mindset of staying together no matter what happens.
But there is also a stark drawback, where parents’ approval of their respective partners is important to a level where it becomes toxic. The quality of conversation with parents in India might not necessarily be as high as that between a Welsh parent and child.
I particularly enjoy living in Wales because of how accepting and warm people are to different cultures and lifestyles. The healthy work culture and inclusion by people makes it very easy for any person traveling from abroad to settle in Wales.
During my time in Wales I’ve learned that there is definitely is a stark contrast between the Indian and the Welsh culture.
The most enduring lesson I learned is that the beauty of Wales’ culture is brought out by its people.
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