First Culture Shock

Emily Hess - Senegal


October 6, 2010

“It’s good, it’s good,” I keep telling my host mother in French. I 
really don’t know what else to say. Literally; I can’t actually say 
much else than that. But I’m learning. Not to sound cliché, and I 
really tried to look for another way to put this, but these last few
days have been, dare I say, an “emotional roller coaster”? Oh, so
cliche, it almost hurts to write. But it really has been. I had never 
experienced a culture shock before; yes, San Francisco was weird, and 
people drive like total maniacs there, but I was nowhere near prepared 
for Saturday, October 2nd. I can barely describe it in words, but I’d 
like to say that I shared a similar experience with one other student
 here who also had never traveled to another country. It involved a lot
 of staring, a lot of wide-eyed disbelief, and a lot of questioning 
whether or not this was a good idea to begin with.

It was scary, it 
was hot, it smelled strange and unusual, there were animals in the
 street, people speaking strange languages, and did I mention how hot 
it was? I’ve never been so hot before at nine o’ clock in the morning
in my whole life. All humor aside though, I was very very scared. And
when we got to the hostel and sat down for breakfast, which consisted
of bread, hot water, some powdered milk and coffee, and different
kinds of spreads, I could feel everything creeping up on me. While my 
friends laughed and joked and smiled amongst one another, Josh and I
stared at one another, the table, the flies, the city, and one another 
again. I could feel my face grow hot and my eyes well up with tears. I
couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t speak. And I was once again 
completely embarrassed and ashamed for showing my fear in front of all
my confident and experienced peers. Our team leader saw and patted me
on the back, but I needed to go somewhere else. I was completely
 exhausted because I was far too anxious to sleep on the plane, and
after I laid down for a very hot morning nap, I think my roller
coaster was leaving the dip in the road and was creeping back up the
hill. I was going to be okay.

That night was very hot with all of the power outages, the fans were 
on and off, the streets were loud and my mosquito net was constantly 
bothering me. But I survived the night. Among a few other “dips” in
the road, which included discovering my apprenticeship and realizing 
it was not what I expected or wanted, and finding a metal wire in my
crepe when I was really enjoying my time at the beach, I am currently
 very comfortable in my bed at my host family’s house. I’m not very 
hot tonight; the power doesn’t go out often in my home, so the fan is
 on steady. And even though the heat can be unbearable, I’d say I’m
 adjusting really well. I still can’t speak French to save my life, but 
I got really lucky here. I’m making the most of it, and even on the
 nights that I get home sick, I remember why I am here and I remember 
that even when times get tough, I am strong enough to make it, I have 
plenty of friends to talk to when I’m uncomfortable, and I have my
 writing.

Thank you Global Citizen Year, I am finding myself every 
single day.

Emily Hess