Culture Shock Does Not Have to Be Shocking – Bing (China)

When we think about culture shock, it always makes us wonder whether it is just “me” or whether everyone feels the same way. Culture shock does not always have to do with the sad, scary, or unpleasant feeling you are going through. It also evokes curiosity, a feeling of newness, and happiness.

There are 4 stages of culture shock. You could find yourself in any of the stages of culture shock, and it would still be the start of your journey to discovering the world. I will give you some ideas from me and my friends about what we experienced in Tartu when we just moved here. Maybe some of these things are normal for you but they are different for us because we are not from the same background. Then this would mean that we are looking at things from different perspectives, and it is all the more interesting!

So, let us start discovering what can happen during the period of culture shock in Tartu.

The Honeymoon Stage

Estonia is known for its innovation, technology, and natural resources. There are some videos and articles online about it, but I still feel a little bit surprised from time to time by how things are working here.

Your TRP (ID) = A Technology Revolution Product

Some degree-seeking students need to apply for a TRP (Temporary Resident Permit). When I got the TRP, I thought it was just an ID, nothing special or cool about it. However, I was wrong. You can use your TRP to do a lot of things. For example, for signing documents in Estonia people do not really use their handwriting anymore. You can just sign your document with your TRP Card or a Smart ID technology. When you need some prescription medicine, the doctor will put it to your TRP card, you do not need to carry a piece of paper. Instead, you just have to give your TRP to the pharmacist and they will give you what you need.

E-Estonia sign
Photo credit: E-Estonia

Smoked, more smoked, and even more smoked meat

It is a very Northern European thing. Estonians really love smoked food! Smoked fish, smoked cheese, smoked chicken, smoked sausage, you name it. And they have it all! I love smoked meat. When I first joined this culinary adventure, it felt like a whole new world just opened up for me. Of course, there was some confusion as well because I had no idea how to eat some of the dishes! I asked a couple of locals in the market how to eat smoked fish. Everyone told me, “Just eat it as it is”. I still did not get it until one day I decided to give it a try. The truth is, smoked fish is delicious even by itself. Only then I could understand what those locals meant. Because the desire to innovate is blended in our human souls, I had to try smoked fish in some different ways, too. This is how smoked fish poke bowl, smoked fish soup, smoked fish sushi, and smoked fish tacos came into play. No one said you could not do it, right? Discovering new food is true happiness.

The Frustration Stage

After a while, when all this fresh, sweet feeling went away a little bit, I was facing the second stage of culture shock, the Frustration Stage.

When the winter is coming, the darkness is coming with it. At 4 in the evening, the sky starts getting dark, and at 9 in the morning, the sky is still dark. It is hard to make yourself go out if you do not really have to. You may pay your gym membership card and think of going there the next day, but the cold stops you even before you step your foot out of your room. This is when you start to feel homesick and miss your friends and family back home.

Frustration #1: Expensive Asian Food Ingredients

For me, the frustration might have been about how expensive Asian food ingredients are in Tartu. Whereas I believed that Chinese restaurants can be found in every corner of the world (and also, that they are cheap and delicious!), the reality in Tartu has no mercy. Until now I have not found a decent Chinese, Korean, Thai, or Vietnamese food place in Tartu. There will hopefully be one in the future. On the other side, some ingredients are very expensive compared with the local ones, such as dried mushrooms, kimchi, and Asian sauces. Well, maybe that is because they come a long way from Asia.

Frustration #2: Online or Offline Shopping? That is the question.

Something that was of big interest to me is the e-commerce environment here in Estonia. As I mentioned before, Estonia could be considered as a high-tech country, people even call it the Silicon Valley of Europe. However, online shopping seems not that popular yet. If we want to buy something from Amazon, we must order it from German Amazon. Of course, Estonia still has some local online sites but it seems like so far, the options are limited. Being a student consumer, price is one of the priorities for me. Buying or not, that is a frustrating question.

The Adjustment Stage

Am I overreacting? Or I am too emotional? Well, the answer is no. You are not the only one who feels that way, you are not too emotional and there is nothing wrong with those complicated feelings you have about a new place in your life. That happened to me, too. That is how I came to The Adjustment Stage.

Humans are the most creative creatures in the world. This is why we should use our knowledge to help ourselves: we need to adjust to the current situation because we choose to study in a new environment. More to that, we are already braver than the people who never managed to leave their comfort zones. Here is want I did to adjust to my new place. Firstly, I joined as many activities as I could to learn about this new place I am living in now. I went hiking, biking, and berry picking during the weekend. There is not much good Asian food here so I needed to be creative at this point as well. I started to watch a lot of cooking tutorials on YouTube, and I was excited to learn the thing I never tried to make before – handmade noodles!

Hiking in Tartu
Photo credit: Kateryna Kubrak

The Acceptance Stage

After being here for one year, I have reached The Acceptance Stage.

I am trying to slow down my thoughts and to feel the locals and understand them. Even if I would never be able to completely understand them, at least I want to try and find more opportunities to talk with the people in the local market and my local classmates. Life is short, so why not just enjoy the short time to study in this beautiful town?

I am still working on learning from those “culture shocks”. One thing I already learned though is how to be positive and happy about it.

Life is like your Christmas gift from grandma, you never know what you will get. But you still love it anyway.