Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, April 20, 2018

Language barrier, hygiene prove difficult

One of the first things everyone tells you before you go abroad is to prepare for culture shock. As stereotypical as it sounds, it is very true. I have only been in Prague for a week, and it is all still setting in.

The most difficult thing so far has been the language barrier, which speaks to the larger cultural difference between Czechs and Americans. Czech doesn't remotely resemble English or any Romance language, so the meanings of words cannot be discerned. And forget trying to pronounce words with various accents and awkward combinations (how do you say four consonants in a row?).

Not only is it more difficult to get around, but it's also rather embarrassing. While most people speak English, not everyone does, and some don't want to help a lost American. It makes Americans just look bad to travel to a foreign country and not have any knowledge of the language.

I do not think language should be required to study in a country (otherwise I would have never been able to come to Prague), but I think Americans in general should be better prepared. In the Czech Republic, students are first taught English when they are 8 years old and continue to study it throughout school. They must also know English by graduate school to have any hope of being successful professionally.

I studied French for four years in high school and always got A's, but I barely remember a word of it. I coasted through the classes and learned how to receive top grades with little actual retention. I never really cared if I knew how to speak another language. I knew to some extent that it wasn't necessary to be successful because everyone else was expected to speak our language.

The other most difficult thing to adjust to is the shower. The change to low-flow energy-efficient showerheads at AU seems minor in comparison now. Yes, my shower gets wonderful water pressure, but that doesn't seem to matter now - at least the AU showerheads were attached to the wall. Instead, we have a tub with a showerhead on a hose that is only attached to the faucet, so that means you have to hold the showerhead while you attempt to wash yourself, which presents some difficulties when you realize you need both hands.

The showerhead cannot be placed on the tub floor because then it sprays everywhere. If it is placed back on its holder, it floods the bathroom floor even more than when the showerhead is on in general. Yes, every time someone showers, the bathroom floor gets a decent amount of water on it. And after six girls share one shower, well, that really builds up.

However, I'm adapting and getting used to my old-fashioned shower. Culture shock is inevitable and almost necessary to understand what it means to live in a foreign country for four months.


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