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Friday, June 14, 2024

Student studying abroad sometimes return to reverse culture shock

After eight weeks of drinking filtered water from plastic bags and showering in river water, Chipper Flaniken still feels weird drinking from a tap.

For the majority of his summer, the 20-year-old UF junior traveled through famine-struck areas of rural Ghana on a mission trip.

If he was lucky, he slept on the bare floor of a mud hut. If not, he slept in a sleeping bag in the African brush.

When the country?s dirt roads were in too bad of a condition to navigate by bus, Flaniken and his group marched for miles through creeks and tall grass to reach their destination.

Back in the United States, Flaniken can?t curb his frustration with America?s rushed society.

BIf things are off by five minutes, people just freak out and panic,C he said. BYou should really see how the rest of the world is living. We are blessed to be able to make a schedule.C

For students who leave Gainesville for the summer, transitioning back into college life can be overwhelming.

But Flaniken and other students who traveled to developing countries for summer break return with a new attitude toward college life and American culture.

Reverse culture shock is not uncommon among students who return to the United States after studying abroad, said Susanne Hill, coordinator of Study Abroad Services at the UF International Center.

While dealing with re-entry issues, most students come back with a greater appreciation for other cultures and a better global understanding, she said.

UF?s campus is a far cry from the University of Zimbabwe?s Harare campus that Tina Steiger visited over the summer.

Steiger, a junior political science major, lived in the capital city of Harare for seven weeks while interning with MWENGO, a nonprofit organization that serves Eastern and Southern Africa.

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Zimbabwe?s once-thriving economy collapsed in June due to extreme inflation.

In addition to food and gasoline shortages, power outages and black-market transactions were commonplace, Steiger said.

While UF students enjoy Einstein Bros. Bagels and Starbucks coffee, Steiger said University of Zimbabwe students she met were lucky to have a piece of bread and tea for breakfast.

BIt would be inconsiderable for them to think a university would have flat-screen TVs,C she said, her eyes scanning the TVs lining the walls in the newly renovated Hub.

Zimbabwe?s hostile political atmosphere gave Steiger a new appreciation for freedom of speech. In July, 4,000 students were evicted from University of Zimbabwe?s campus after students protested a university decision to charge extra fees because the term was extended following a strike by lecturers, according to an article from the British Broadcasting Corp.

Flaniken and Steiger both said they are not the same people they were before going to Africa.

Flaniken, a marketing major, is gearing up for football season, intramural sports and a newly elected post as student president of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Humbled by his experience, Flaniken is determined to shift his priorities and focus on other peoples? needs before his own.

BAmericans work hard, they strive and put a lot of work into making America successful,C he said. BBut at the same time, it?s important to be a good steward of what you have.C

Steiger is enjoying reading uncensored newspapers and talking freely about politics in public places without the fear of being arrested.

Under President Robert Mugabe?s totalitarian dictatorship, Zimbabwean newspapers are censored and loaded with propaganda, Steiger said.

BYou could get arrested for anything,C she said. BSo many times I felt like I was in the book '1984.?C

Steiger said she is still amazed at how smoothly American society functions compared to Zimbabwe?s.

BSometimes I feel that we forget about how much we have,C she said. BThere are students out there who have it much harder than we do.C

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