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Culture Shock in My Own State

By Meital Caplan
August 22, 2018

For many students, college is the first time they leave the comfort of their homes for new environments that don’t mirror their communities in any way. Adjustment to the unknown, and at times unfriendly, is hard. OneGoal – New York Fellow Austin Morales shares the culture shock he received when he stepped onto his college campus and what he had to do to adapt.

Last fall, I woke up one morning 300+ miles away from home and I was alone. I barely got any sleep the night before thanks to this bed that wasn’t as comfortable as the one in my room back in Spanish Harlem, but I’ll have to get used to it because this will be my home for the next four years. I woke up in college, and I wasn’t ready, with the unfamiliar room being the least of my new struggles.

I didn’t know what exactly to expect when I got to my school: SUNY Buffalo State College. The two things that sold me was that the college was in Buffalo, an urban city, and that I’d be far from home, 384 miles to be exact. However, what sold me also ended up coming back to bite me. I’m not going to say that I don’t like the college, because I do, a lot. But I didn’t expect to go through such a big culture shock. I didn’t expect one because, well, I was staying in the same state, just a different city.

I was so wrong. Whereas I was used to buses arriving every five minutes, the buses in Buffalo took so long to come that you could have completed the SATs twice. Gone were the 24-hour stores and delis, Buffalo stores closed as early as nine o’clock meaning that if I found myself getting ready for bed without toothpaste, then I was out of luck. The cold was the worst surprise. By late October, we were already in the low 20s with snow and I was just walking around campus with a leather jacket, jeans and sneakers trying to act warm while others around me had their parkas on. I had assumed that I wouldn’t need any of my warm jackets until I went back home for winter break, what did I know? And did I mention that everyone is nice to each other here?!

This was all a culture shock to me. Something I thought only happened if I was to visit a different country, or continent. I didn’t expect for this to happen in the same state I grew up in, but I knew I’d have to adjust. I found the bus schedule online and made sure to always know when to catch it, as well as always keeping a book with me in case I still had to wait. I got to know and build friendships with people from the community who gave me a better scope on how society worked in Buffalo, including what’s the best coat to keep warm. I also learned that the best thing to do is go shopping on a Saturday afternoon and pick up everything that you need to avoid a last-minute panic during the week.

My independence grew, most importantly in school. In starting college I learned that gone were the days that a teacher would email the class about an upcoming assignment or remind us of test dates. This world disappeared during my first week of college when I missed an assignment that was clearly stated on the syllabus but of which we weren’t reminded. I quickly realized that it’s not the professor’s job to do that. Their job is to lecture to you about the subject, not be your parent. So like with everything else, I adapted.

Adapting is what it all comes down to. There’s no other choice. It might be unfamiliar, strange and uncomfortable at first, but those feelings pass. In their place you’ll find independence, confidence and strength, which will help you in college and beyond. So to succeed, research and prepare as much as you can, get ready to adapt, and last but not least, see what the weather is like wherever you’re thinking of going.

MORE: Alums, New York