On Culture Shocks and First Impressions

November 19, 2021

by Julia Pocze, Alumni Scholarship Recipient and LLM student in the Department of Legal Studies

[Ed. note: this article was written prior to the reintroduction of stricter COVID measures and the move to online teaching.]

In 2016, when I moved to Germany to attend university, my very first day began with something they call “Weißwurstfrühstück” – a Bavarian breakfast tradition, where they serve beer, soft pretzels, and Weißwurst, a white sausage made from veal and pork. As I entered the cafeteria full of freshmen such as myself and saw people eat sausage and wash it down with beer at nine o’clock in the morning, I experienced something of a culture shock – even though I'm from Hungary, a place where people do love their beers and processed meats. For a first impression, it was certainly memorable – and it symbolized, in a way, that I was now part of a new, dominant culture that required my fitting in.

In terms of culture shocks, the one I had at CEU is of a different kind.

It is, above all else, an international community: the people you meet here are most likely from another country, if not another continent. Here, you are actively encouraged or even required to voice your own opinion in virtually every single class. The way you see a problem and assess certain situations presented to you is largely informed by your individual background and the culture that influenced you. So, you are constantly participating in classes where everyone has a fundamentally different story to tell, which is why there is no ‘odd one out’.

Before I came here, I used to be one of the few international students in my program for five years. I used to be the exception. Now, I am one of many.

Mind you, I have had the privilege to always be welcomed wherever I went, and I am most grateful for the experiences that shaped me into the person I am. But for a while, studying abroad came with the price of assimilation, at least to a certain extent. At CEU, it’s been different: come as you are, one might say. It's our individual personalities and narratives that make up this unique and colorful community – and that’s a culture shock on its own.