Reverse Culture Shock In The USA

“Adjusting to one’s home country and culture can take a while. This graph sums it up quite well.”

After being away from the United States, my home country, for the past year, I have been dealing with ‘reverse culture shock’ since I have returned as many people who come back to their home culture experience after an extended time overseas. There is a natural recovery and adjustment process but it takes time to get back into the swing of things. As a writer, I like to gather my thoughts on paper about what I have noticed about my home country since returning from my time spent overseas. These observations have helped me to deal with my ‘reverse culture shock’ so far and to comment on what could be improved or changed to make my country better. I have traveled to 20 other countries, and have lived in Turkey and Costa Rica thus far so I believe I have some knowledge about how the U.S. compares to the rest of the world in different ways.

I would like to note that I do love my country and have enjoyed being born and growing up here. The United States is a great country and I only wish to see it become better and better in the future. I intend to use this blog post to merely bring up some outstanding issues and problems that the U.S. must deal with as a whole. No country I’ve lived in or have been to will ever be perfect and every country has different flaws/issues to work out. That’s part of the reason why I love to travel and explore the world. It’s interesting to see the variation among cultures and societies along with how they tackle their own internal and external problems to make their own countries better. Listed below are the items that I write in detail about which have caused me some ‘reverse culture shock’ since my return to the United States in late July of 2015.

  1. Lack of Using the Metric System in the 21st Century: The U.S. is one of only three nations in the world who don’t fully use the Metric System (International System of Units, SI). Liberia, Myanmar are currently our only counterparts in this anomaly. There’s no excuse for that and it harms our international commerce procedures and our ability to conduct foreign relations properly.
  2. Lack of High Speed Rail, and Efficient Public Transportation: This can be quite jarring after visiting developed nations like Germany, France and also from what I have read about China and Japan who are way ahead of the U.S. in developing high-speed rail networks. Part of this is the fault of state governors who refuse federal stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects. (Examples: Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, etc.)
  3. Large and Unhealthy Food Portions: This may be part of the reason for the ongoing obesity problem in the country. I’m all for enjoying a good meal of course but I think the food portions I’ve had in the U.S. have been the biggest than all of the other countries that I’ve visited so far. I also believe that having ‘free refills’ and ‘soda fountains’ at restaurants, while a tempting proposition, is not something that should be offered to promote a healthy diet.
  4. Reliance on Tipping (Mandatory?) to pay workers’ wages: I’m fine with throwing in an extra 10% on top of my meal and tax for good service but I don’t believe it should be 15-20% every time in order for these workers to meet and go above their very low hourly Minimum Wage as ‘tipped workers’. I believe that these service workers in the U.S. should be paid a higher minimum wage altogether by law and that they should be guaranteed a good wage each shift rather than fighting for tips each day.
  5. Obesity crisis and an astounding proportion of adults/children who are overweight: It’s a drain on an already expensive health care system and contributes to our total health care expenses. There needs to be more emphasis in our society on daily exercise and getting out of the house for both children and adults. Healthier eating and taking a walk/going for a run each day can go a long way to helping to solve this problem. I believe that companies and schools should play a larger role in keeping their employees/students in good physical shape with certain incentives.
  6. Heavy reliance on cars, trucks and other motor vehicles to get around suburban and urban areas: There is a lack of walking around towns and cities because there is much more sprawl and open space in the U.S. However, I believe that having trams/streetcars, more extensive public bus transportation systems in both suburban and urban areas could relieve part of the traffic jams and gridlock that affects a lot of the country nowadays.
  7. Big Businesses and Corporations get the benefit of the doubt too often: When it comes to beating out smaller businesses and enterprises, these big box stores are winning out. These major companies contribute to this problem by monopolizing their industry and not allowing others to compete in a free market environment. This, in part, contributes to suburban sprawl because these huge megastores contribute to the layout that contributes to the car culture. (i.e. Wal-Mart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy). I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a family-owned coffee shop in my town or neighborhood. There are three Starbucks’ around though for a good cup of joe…
  8. General lack of curiosity about foreign cultures and peoples: Many Americans do not speak a 2nd language or don’t pay attention to international affairs beyond what they learned about briefly in high school and college. This is a generalization but I still believe it applies to the majority of people within this vast country. Still, only about 30-35% of Americans own a Passport. I would encourage more Americans to travel and see the world especially if they’re younger. Taking a “gap year” before or after college would be a good way to travel and there are ‘work-study’ programs available for Americans to take advantage of in western European countries (Ireland, UK, etc.) along with Australia.
  9. Very conservative laws about alcohol possession and consumption: “21” as the minimum legal age for consuming alcohol makes no sense to me especially considering you can start operating a motor vehicle at 16, join the military at 18 and also vote for President and other elected officials at that same age. Having someone check your ID to get into bars/clubs or at a sporting event to purchase beer or wine is also ridiculous. I’ve seen people in their 40’s and 50’s get carded when they are clearly over the legal age here. The United States is one of the few countries where the drinking age is 21 along with Pakistan, the UAE, and Indonesia.
  10. Mind-numbing advertisements: I have noticed that there are way too many drug commercials (Cialis, Prozac, Ambien etc.) that appear on television especially during the day. In the U.S., We are constantly bombarded in our homes, in public events, on public transportation, etc. with these silly advertisements. It’s predictably a way for marketers to get people to feel insecure enough about themselves to want to buy things to fill some kind of missing “void” in our lives.
  11. Political Gridlock / No ability to get big things done legislatively: The recent threats of a government shutdown, the debt ceiling threats, continuous gerrymandering, the electoral college deciding a Presidential election instead of the popular vote, too much of an influence of organized money in politics in the upcoming 2016 elections, (Citizens United decision). These occurrences harm our ability to boost our education system, solve long-term Medicare and Medicaid solvency along with the broken immigration system and the need for more investments in our antiquated transportation and infrastructure systems.
  12. Expensive costs of Higher Education: A lot of Western countries completely subsidize higher education institutions but the United States has seen a rapid growth in the amount of students going into debt to pay for college and graduate school. There have also have been cuts over the years to the Public University systems in certain states such as California. Wages have not kept up with inflation and the pace of tuition increases is out of control. $1 trillion of total student debt is disturbing and is a poor reflection of our country’s priorities.
  13. High level of income inequality between the richest and poorest Americans: The top 1% of Americans earns about 20% of the total national income. This is unacceptable and shows a widening gulf between the wealthy and poor. This level of inequality is at its’ highest since the gilded age of the 1920’s. Many economists say this is one, if not the top economic issue facing the country into the future. If not dealt with, our country runs the risk of turning into an actual “banana republic.”
  14. Too much emphasis on Military Spending: The U.S. continues to spend more on its military and armed forces at about 650 billion dollars total. This is 40% of the total world share and is more than the next 11-12 nations combined. It may only account for 4% of the total Gross Domestic Product but has much more of an influence on the federal budget than State, HUD, Education, HHS, EPA combined. The Cold War has been over for twenty years and the wars of the 21st century will be fought through specialized forces, by drones, or over the cyber-web so there’s no need for such an expansive budget into the future. It’s important to maintain a strong military but a nation should have other priorities as well and balance them out successfully.
  15. Our prison system needs real reform: The United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world. 2.3 million citizens are in its jails which is 22% of the world’s total amount of incarcerated prisoners, (Source: World Prison Population). Unfortunately, we are ahead of other nations such as Russia, Iran, China, UAE, etc. when it comes to this rather dubious distinction. While the Netherlands is closing down prisons because of a lack of need, my country continues to build up a massive private prison industry which is unheard of in most other industrialized nations. This is, in part, a result of the failed “War on Drugs” which involves serious sentencing measures for non-violent drug offenders. Recently, politicians in both major parties in the U.S. have called for prison and sentencing reform but no concrete legislation has been passed by Congress and signed by the President up until this point.
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A Short Guide to Teaching English Overseas

Teach English Abroad! I promise that you won’t regret it.
Teach English Abroad! I promise that you won’t regret it.

 This past year, I had my first teaching English as a foreign language overseas experience. I would like to give my loyal readers some insight into what it was like and I can also give you some tips/advice that I could have used when I first signed up to teach English in a foreign country.

 First of all, there’s a lot of different options when it comes to getting your teaching certificate. I would recommend taking either an online TEFL/TESOL course which would take about ten to twelve weeks and cost between $1,000-$1,500. If you want to go full-time and get it done quicker, you can most likely take an in-class course for about forty hours a week and be finished in about a month or so but it will cost you closer to $2,000.

I got my TEFL/TESOL certificate through the International TEFL Academy which is a great organization and you can find out more information about them through a simple Google search. I’ve had friends of mine sign up for a course both online and in-person and it paid off for them with real, good-paying jobs.

 Now, don’t be fooled because there are some organizations out there that are not legitimate and will try to rip you off. Between my Bachelor’s degree and my TEFL/TESOL certificate, I was good to go though and ready to apply to schools around the world. Be ready to work hard and do a decent amount of homework, and in-class training in order to achieve your TEFL certificate. It’s really easy to get good grades in your course as long as you put the effort and hard work in to earn your qualification. I believe the CELTA certificate is more advanced and could lead to more opportunities but I’m not sure how big of a difference it makes really.

 For example, if you’re an English teacher who is interested in teaching in Spain, the program that is sponsored by the Spanish government is a great option if you would like to teach English in Europe. Honestly though, besides Spain and Italy, not many Western European countries are going to pay you very well to teach English. If I were you, dear reader, I would look into Poland, Czech Republic, and/or Hungary if you’re feeling more adventurous.

There’s also Latin America, Southeast Asia, and other Eastern European countries but they don’t really pay too high if that is your main concern. China, Japan, and the Middle East are the biggest payouts even if you have just a TEFL Certificate and a Bachelor’s degree but the cultural differences are large and the living standards vary from country to country. I can’t tell you where to teach but if you do your research and talk to others about their experiences, you may have a better idea of where you want to go. It depends on your lifestyle and your cultural preferences.

 I chose to teach over the past year in Istanbul, Turkey because I was already familiar with the country and culture due to a previous experience living here a few years ago for my studies. I knew the language and the locals relatively well and I got a really good job offer to come here. Some schools will pay for your living accommodations which can help you in terms of saving money and being able to travel around Europe and elsewhere. Please make sure that you research about the school’s reputation and try to interview with them in person or through Skype before signing any paperwork/contracts. Be sure to look over the whole contract before signing on legally to a school for a year or more.

 There have been many young people who have been screwed over in the past because they did not read the fine print. Always make sure to know what you’re getting into in terms of salary, work permit, visa help, accommodations, etc. I was pretty happy with the choice I made although there were hiccups and missteps along the way. I had competing offers to work in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and elsewhere but I am content with where I chose to go. Lastly, eight weeks of paid vacation a year is a really good deal compared to most jobs out there on the market internationally.

 There are downsides to this lifestyle though in that the working culture can be quite different than you are used to and things often are done at a slower pace than Americans / Westerners are used to. Upper management at some schools can be frustrating to deal with at times and will have different work policies than the ones you’re used to in your native country.

Teaching English is a job like any other and it can be quite stressful and to teach children, you will need to develop patience and a lot of understanding. It’s not entirely a vacation from the real world as some folks make it out to be. I worked 40–45 hours a week and had to prepare lesson plans and help create exams. However, I had a great experience in getting a deeper understanding of Turkish culture, meeting new people, making new friendships, traveling when I could to different countries, and becoming a more mature and confident person. I lived comfortably on my local salary and I had free enough time where I could go out and socialize with my friends.

 For someone in their early 20’s, I think it’s a great thing to do and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the world around you. Just do your research, think about what country fits you best, learn the language, and reap the benefits. It’s not easy moving and living in another country. It’s not for everyone too but if you’re adventurous and want to explore new places, I highly recommend it to all of you reading.

 If you have any other questions about teaching English as a foreign language, please feel free to message me or reply to this post. For more resources on getting a TEFL/TESOL certificate or finding a teaching English job, I would go to these websites, some of which I mentioned to you already above:

http://www.internationalteflacademy.com
http://www.tefl.com/
http://eslcafe.com/
https://www.teachaway.com/
http://www.tfchina.org/en/index.aspx
http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listing…road.shtml

Happy Hunting!

The Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

“There’s so many languages to learn and so little time to master them. What are you waiting for?”

 Learning a foreign language often gets overlooked by those people who like to travel to different countries and have fun adventures, unique experiences but refuse to learn the local tongue while they are traveling. However, A large part of truly integrating yourself into a foreign culture when living overseas is to develop a working proficiency in the local language. When you make the effort to learn the language, it truly makes a difference both to those in the new community and/or country in which you’re residing. If you consider yourself to be a worldly person who likes to travel, you must also seek to become well-versed in foreign languages.

 The locals will respect you more and you also stand out from the other tourists and expatriates who only know the basic phrases and words even though some of them have been there for a longer period of time than you. Especially in a professional context, learning foreign languages makes you stand out in many different types of businesses and industries today. I’ve met so many people from around the world during my recent experience of living overseas who are very successful and are fluent in three to four global languages including English, French, Spanish, etc. One of my personal goals in life is to be fluent in three to four languages excluding my native tongue of English.

 I’ve been pretty successful thus far in developing a good proficiency in Spanish, Turkish, and with some basic knowledge of German and Arabic. I hope to keep improving my foreign language background as I go through my 20’s. One of the best things about language learning is that it’s never too late to start and to see how far you can develop your proficiency in it. I’ve heard that it does get harder though as you become older and that it takes more and more work to learn a foreign language starting in your 30’s and beyond. Even if you don’t want to really become fluent, it makes all the difference really in just having those basic 25–50 words and phrases that you learned and memorized before you head off for your travels to new countries and foreign locales.

 There are a lot of cognitive benefits to knowing more than one language and there is a lot of research to back this statement up. (For example; Source –http://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows) It helps your mind stay sharp and it allows you to see the world in a different way. It’s hard to describe but by thinking in multiple languages, it makes your mind much more agile and able to think creatively, and to analyze thoughts much more deeply.

 I think that every person should learn a foreign language even if it’s just the basic phrases and sayings. There are so many free and cheap ways to learn a foreign language these days. For example, Duolingo is an excellent web application that is free to try and use. There are also many websites nowadays where you can hire a native speaker of a foreign language to tutor you in a private lesson for an hour for only $15–20 which is quite affordable.

 The fact that foreign language learning goes neglected sometimes in the United States is a real shame. However, regardless of where you’re from, even though you may have never picked another language up when you were younger doesn’t mean it’s not still possible.(http://qz.com/453297/many-european-kids-…cans-zero/) Hopefully, everyone who reads this blog entry will think hard and long about giving foreign languages another go of it and to make it part of your personal development. It’s challenging yet rewarding and there are many benefits to it, both professionally and personally.

The Doors: A Retrospective

"Today, The Doors are considered to be one of the greatest musical groups of the 20th century…and for good reason."
“Today, The Doors are considered to be one of the greatest musical groups of the 20th century…and for good reason.”

One of the greatest bands to have ever existed in the 20th century, The Doors, are one of my favorite musical artists. I recently started listening to them about a year or so ago and have never looked back. They make a lot of the popular music produced in this day and age seem shallow and shortsighted in comparison. Part of the band’s appeal is the deep, existential lyrics of their songs that are woven through each and every one of their albums.

Jim Morrison, the lead vocalist, is the catalyst that made ‘The Doors’ what they were because of his un-disputable talent as a lead front-man and also as a great singer. In addition to producing excellent records in the studio, ‘The Doors’ were an electric presence on the stage and at their live venues where Morrison would captivate the audience with his eccentric motions and his crazy, inebriated antics. However, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore each contributed so much to the band itself that Jim would have been nothing without their musical talents.

Part of the appeal of The Doors to me has always been Ray’s enthusiastic and sensual keyboard/organ melody on a lot of the classic songs in the band’s collection. Robby contributed a lot of the writing for the lyrics to most of ‘The Doors’ song catalogue that Jim often mistakenly gets the credit for. Today, you don’t see these kinds of bands anymore that push the limits of experimental Rock and Roll. This particular genre was truly a late 1960’s to early 1970’s phenomenon partly due to the members’ heavy usage of psychotropic drugs that influenced musical groups such as ‘The Doors’, ‘Jefferson Airplane’, ‘Jimi Hendrix’, ‘Janis Joplin’, etc. Because of the uniqueness and the short period of time in which these groups surfaced and then diminished, a lot of these musical artists and groups still hold a high place in the hierarchy of Rock and Roll music.

Certain figures such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison have become American cultural icons due to their talent, but also for their erratic and unpredictable behavior, and the early deaths of these musical artists with suspicious circumstances attached to them has made them apart of the infamous ’27 Club’.

Above all else, ‘The Doors’ were one of the few bands that took an existentialist look at life, love, sex, death, and other mature topics that today’s mainstream musical groups rarely touch upon. It should come as no surprise then that the band’s name is taken from one of English author Aldous Huxley’s most famous works of literature: ‘The Doors of Perception.’ I think that is partly why I have become such a big fan of their music. They wrote about perceiving the human experience and all that it entails.

The Joy of Reunions

We weren't quite as rowdy as these guys but they knew how to make a reunion special.
We weren’t quite as rowdy as these guys but they knew how to make a reunion special.

It is a very underrated yet a very joyous feeling to be able to meet up with friends who you have not seen in a long time. It is almost like you are meeting them again for the first time or that sometimes it feels like they never left your life in the first place. Unfortunately, people who you have met and befriended before in your life sometimes move around the country or around the world and it’s possible to lose touch with them.

I was lucky enough to see close friends of mine again in New York City a few weekends ago after not seeing them for over a year or so since I was overseas teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey. It was an ecstatic feeling being able to see all of these friends of mine who I had not seen in a long time and the memories came flooding back to me like it was just yesterday.

 The idea of a reunion plays into the very nature of human beings and how we are social animals above all else. We urge to be connected with each other especially after having not seen one another in a while. When we do reconnect, it’s like we had never gone our separate ways in life and the memories come flooding back. My experiences in life simply wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have good friends to share with it.

In all honestly, the people who you surround yourself throughout your life affect the experiences you have more than you would think. I believe that life experiences have a peculiar importance in not going through them by yourself because if you don’t have anyone to do it with, how will you ever be able to understand the significance of the event or the meaningfulness of it at the time. This goes along with traveling abroad, eating, drinking, dancing, and any other social activity that we human beings engage in throughout the course of our lives and they should be shared with others above all else.

 Reunions can be spontaneous and you never when they’re going to happen again. It is important to savor those chances to meet up with those people again that you have not seen in a long time. That way you will always know that there will be someone or a group of people in different parts of the country or in different areas of the world that you might be able to see again if you ever see yourself relatively close to them geographically.

 During this recent reunion, I felt many positive emotions brimming to the surface and I remember trying to savor each of those elated moments that night. I enjoyed every laugh, every inside joke, every story we each shared together and it really made me very happy and content to be able to see these friends again. It made me want to keep in touch with them even more and to see their faces again as well if the opportunity ever presented itself. Distance and time are strong barriers but can be overcome quite easily in this day and age if you try hard enough. It is safe to say that I am already looking forward to the next reunion.

The Conundrum of Choice

Life can be a lot like a cereal aisle sometimes. Too many choices, and not enough time.
Life can be a lot like a cereal aisle sometimes. Too many choices, and not enough time.

No other mental task can be so challenging and exhausting yet invigorating as making a choice. The concept of “Choice” is a behavioral process that we each undergo hundreds of times each day and they can either be the most routine, mundane of decisions to be made or those that are very rare and of great importance. These choices that we make can either have the most immediate or long-term impacts on our lives.

I tend to sometimes naively overlook how important choice is in determining one’s destiny or fate in life. As human beings, we make so many choices each day that it’s difficult to discern from what’s valuable to what really doesn’t matter in the grander scheme of things. This also plays into one’s individual perception of what is and what isn’t important in life, which is a long debate that should be left for another thinker. I was walking through the local grocery store going through the vast, tall aisles and felt completely overwhelmed.

Who knew that choosing cereal these days could come with so many options to choose from? I was completely flummoxed at first and ended up just placing a random cereal in my cart out of frustration and bewilderment. This is an example of a choice that really is quite basic when you think of it but may have had it’s importance overstated since there are now more choices than ever.

Clearly, most people in this world today do not have access to these many choices as we do here in the United States and other developed countries but it makes you think that we should be lucky for all the choosing we get to do on a daily basis. We should not take for granted in our society how many choices we do have and how many decisions we can make as independent people who have the freedom to make these kinds of decisions.

 Many people living in the world today have very limited options and are unable to make choices because they are not allowed to or do not have the option to. Next time, you’re meandering in the cereal aisle for perhaps a bit longer than you should, think about the weight of this choice and whether or not it is worth the time or the effort because there are many other choices to be made throughout the day and they may be a bit more important than “Fruity Pebbles or Cheerio’s?”

Hitting The Gym: A Test of Willpower

It's easier now than ever to stay in shape but why do people still refuse to hit the gym? It's a test of willpower.
It’s easier now than ever to stay in shape but why do people still refuse to hit the gym? It’s a test of willpower.

 It’s a constant struggle. The motivation and perseverance needed to go work out after a long day at the office, school, etc. It’s become such a growing part of our society especially with the modern amenities, the number and size of these gyms increasing day by day. As I get older, it’s becoming more and more apart of my weekly routine as my daily opportunities for exercise and fitness are starting to decline due to sheer laziness or the business of my schedule.

It makes me miss those days before college where I would participate in mandatory gym class during school and then do varsity sports after classes ended. I think that despite the crowded treadmills, overworked weight-lifting machines and the sometime obnoxious guys who live for the gym experience 24/7, it’s not such a bad routine to get into for those who don’t really partake in it yet. It relieves stress, clears your mind and makes you stronger.

 People do a lot of things to make themselves feel good, why not add going to the gym to that list? It certainly would lead to a more fit and happy world in a sense especially if it’s not too expensive and could appeal to anybody. Who knows? You might just like it so much that you go four-five times a week and become super-strong. Personally, I don’t recommend doing that. My body usually gets sore and aches if I go more than twice or three times a week and that usually means you’re doing something right. The hard work of running, lifting, jumping, stretching usually pays off if you put in enough effort into it which is the main reason going to the gym is worth your time in the long run.

 My point is that most people in this world do not have the luxury of going to the gym or even having access to one let alone affording a membership. It is a luxury we often take for granted in our advanced society but those who are lucky enough to have the means to do it should not hesitate to indulge every once and a while. There are two extremes today when it comes to the relative fitness of the world. Obesity rates and the number of overweight people are increasing at an alarming rate within the developed world while there are still a billion or more people out there who starve and suffer for a daily ration of food each day.

This goes to show that Gyms are not for everyone and that not everyone needs or should go to the gym. I do see them becoming more central to certain people’s livelihoods who can’t live without them do to their busy schedules or lack of other means of exercise. The gym is not for everyone but it should be in a way. Gym class was my favorite in my elementary school and it was a great opportunity to mingle with my friends. Exercise is good for you and while the modern gym is not as accessible or as affordable as it should be, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of giving society the means to improve themselves physically and mentally if they so choose to.