Travel: Before or After?

Whilst semester one at QUT is yet to start, here at The University of Exeter my fifth week has begun. I’ve been abroad for almost 3 months now, so how has this side of the world treated me so far?

Before I arrived in Exeter I spent a month doing the typical Aussie thing and took a Topdeck Tour around Europe, and what do you know?  Around 3/4 of the group were Australian. Doing a tour before or after my exchange was something I mulled over for quite a long time, but from the moment I got on a bus with a group of strangers I knew I’d made the right call doing it beforehand. My tour group became a second family. You can’t spend 18 days in close quarters with the same group of people and not become close. Together we travelled to 8 different countries and saw parts of the world older than Australia itself.

On my travels I saw the Colosseum in Rome, cruised the canals in Venice and reached Jungfrau, the top of Europe, in Switzerland. This tour enabled me to see parts of the world I wouldn’t necessarily have seen by myself. I climbed the never-ending stairs of the Arc De Triumph, ate snails and avoided Haggis like the plague and explored the nightlife in Edinburgh.

Canal Cruise, Venice

 

Hogmanay Torch Procession, Edinburgh

But it wasn’t simply the sights that had me amazed on the trip. My Trip Leader (don’t ever call them a tour guide), somehow had all of Europe’s history stored in his head. So on the long drives between countries he shared his knowledge and I learnt more on those bus trips than 2 years of high school history could ever teach me.

Because of this trip and with a great deal of help from our Trip Leader I learnt how to integrate myself into other cultures. In most countries I was taught the basics, hello, goodbye and thank-you, other than that however I was on my own. It forced me, along with the help of my new-found friends, to figure out our own way home on public transport in Rome or a walking route in Florence. I learnt the awkwardness of a checkout exchange when the only English the server knew was chocolate and I learnt to become more street-wise in Paris. Being forced into these situations made me so much more aware and appreciative of other cultures, which in turn made me more confident in my abilities to travel alone and study abroad.

Navigating the trains in Paris

The streets of Florence, and its beautiful Cathedral

My trip across Europe will definitely be a highlight of my exchange. It enabled me to see the places I wanted to go back to (almost everywhere) and was the perfect way to become accustomed to different cultures before settling down in England. I felt more excited than ever to start my exchange and even made some friends along the way. So if you’re stuck on the before or after question when it comes to travelling, the answer is before. But, who knows, you could end up doing both!

My incredible tour group in Amsterdam

Cultural Differences and People Management

Ok, so I’m enrolled in a unit called Cultural Differences and People Management. A lot of the course work revolves around writing about our feelings and such (BSB124 anyone?). It has a lot of self-reflection. I’ve just completed the homework for the first seminar (their version of tutorials). To describe it in a few words, I went from being very reserved in my answers to listing every difference or issue I have noticed/experienced since being here. I think it sums up well the time I’ve spent here so far, and thus I shall replicate it for all of your amusement (?):

“Seminar Week 2 – Cultural Management

1. From French, 2010:45: “How useful is it to view culture in Hofstede’s term as ‘the collective programming of the mind’”? Give examples of such ‘collective programming’ from your own cultures.

By assuming national cultures share common characteristics that are a part of their “programming” it allows managers and business professionals to make realistic assumptions about the people they interact with. It assists in both management of, and interaction with, people from other cultures. It also removes the barrier of cultures and ensures and insures human interactions are unhindered by cultural differences/biases.

What Hofstede provides is a way to examine culture in a general sense. Whilst he notes not all people, within a culture are the same, and that personalities/unique traits have a high variation within a population, he believes that there are certain core elements of a culture that are shared among its populace. As such, to think of it as a collective programming of people’s minds allows people to interact with another culture in an effective (and non-offensive) manner.

Examples of Cultural Programming within our own culture:
• Mateship – Australians are for the most part, all friends with one another, regardless of whether or not we know each other or are strangers. We will greet strangers on the street, ask them about their day, and offer assistance on trivial things if needed.
• Empathy – Australia is a very compassionate nation. In times of crisis, we will go above and beyond to help a fellow man
• Fairness – Australians operate on a fairness basis. To put simply, we believe in “a fair go” and that all people should be given a chance when it is due to them. We believe also in the fair value of things, that is, we believe that in all things there should be an equivalent exchange. For example, the Australian public believes we should not pay more for something if it isn’t worth something, we will pay only if the price is fair. We will complain about the rate of tax if our governments are not providing adequate services for the money we pay. We will voice our objection to any political policies that discriminate against the Australian people, and the concept of “a fair go”. On a side note, most Australians will look down on ANYONE who doesn’t contribute to society in some respect, as it violates this policy of fairness and equivalent exchange. We have a name for these people.
• Respect – We have a deep respect for our history and those who serve the country in some way.

2. What is meant by’ Culture Shock? Can you give any examples of it from your own experience?
Culture shock is the dissonance felt when experiencing a culture that is not one’s own. It manifests in a number of ways, most commonly feelings of anxiety and feelings of alienation within the foreign culture because you are operating within an environment that conflicts with your own perception of what is a “normal” society.

Some examples from my own experience would be some of the etiquette differences between Australia and the UK. Australian people will say hello to people on the street. That does not occur here. Other minor differences that made me feel a little alienated included the rearrangement of goods on supermarket shelves, not seeing familiar brands from back home, being scolded for things that are considered a must over here, but no one cares about in Australia (e.g. Over here it is expected you place a barricade between your food items and someone else’s. In Australia, we rarely use this, as we just leave a space for those behind us. I was scolded because I OFFERED the person behind me the use of the barrier). Other minor differences I’ve noticed include:
• Australians walking up stairs/escalators on a different side than the British
• The amount of foods British people smother with butter
Some minor things that I’ve been annoyed with since being here:
• The assumption that all Australians cannot be well spoken. No offence to any British people reading this, but I’ve seen more Australians that have a higher mastery of the English language than I have within the population of the UK itself, in fact, we butcher the language to a lesser degree than a lot of the locals within this country.
• We do NOT ride kangaroos to school
• We are NOT all uncivilised. Education has gotten better since federation
• We are NOT all convicts. Hell, a vast majority of people who were sent to Australia were jailed for stealing bread to support their families, because lord knows the UK’s economy couldn’t support them at the time.

3. Is ‘Culture Shock’ inevitable when you encounter a new or different culture?

After the above examples, I’d like to say yes to this question, however, just because I have noticed these differences/had these scrutinies, it does not mean I have not been able to cope, and for the most part, get along swimmingly with a lot of people. I have made a vast majority of friends since being here, and my interpersonal skills are just as effective in this country as they are in my own. I’d also like to note the best people I’ve met whilst in the UK, so far, are the French.

4. Describe some strategies that are useful in avoiding or minimising culture shock.
• Cross-cultural training or some program that enforces learning in diversity – To help understand that there are differences among cultures, and to harbor respect for all people
• Living in a multicultural society – Australia being largely multicultural, we don’t have an issue with being surrounded by multiple cultures, in fact as a general rule, we embrace having so much cultural diversity, as it forces us to understand that we are not the greatest culture in the world, nor the worse, and that all cultures should be respected.
• Researching the culture before entering the country – It may not be possible to know ALL the nuances in another country before arriving, but it definitely can assists in avoiding any largely awkward situations.”

I’ll admit it gets a tad whiney at the end. But it felt so good to voice those opinions on paper format. ALL IN ALL though, I am loving my time here. And I’ve made sure to correct many people about any misconceptions they have about Australia.

Stay classy Aus,

Tom