I Never Thought I Would Experience Culture Shock

Posted on June 9th, by Emilie Ehrman in Sprouting in Brussels. No Comments

I have started my third week in Belgium, and I am very, very happy here.

I am astounded that a place I have lived for two weeks can feel so much like home, and that I can experience culture shock and homesickness each for the first time within a single weekend.

In Brussels:

My internship at Serve the City Brussels:

I am very pleased with my internship position. As a communication intern, I am furthering my experience with WordPress and MailChimp, two techniques for professional communication. I have my own Serve the City email address where I independently correspond with people who wish to serve with the organization or who have questions about the work we do. Although I am learning the answers to many of their questions, I am free to ask my supervisor, Cosmina, if any of the emails stump me.

mermaid statue

My favorite statue I pass on the way to work. I think there is supposed to be water spouting from the mouth of the fish, but I like it all the same.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Belgians do not work like Americans. We take frequent breaks for coffee and cigarettes (I do not smoke, but I do drink coffee!) and do not have rigid plans for each day of work. In my few years, I have noticed that Americans tend to work, work, work until the very end of each day to achieve as much as possible. Lunch breaks have set times and other breaks are not frequent. In Belgium, you achieve what you can during each work day without stressing about what may not get done. This is very different, but much less stressful.

My intro to design class:

I would not consider myself an abstract thinker, but the intro to design class I am currently taking is attempting to shape my thoughts in an entirely different way. My professor is very relaxed, and usually lets us out of our four-hour class an hour or two early. We have been discussing the taste of water… tell me how that works out. We have now been assigned to design a 3-D creation to demonstrate our thought on the taste of water. There are some days where I feel like I’m expanding my thoughts, and some days where I feel like my brain is going to explode.

My other experiences:

Last week, our ISA group visited the Cantillon Brewery. This was my first visit to a brewery, and it was absolutely fascinating. I never knew so much work was put into something many college students around the world fill themselves with for a good time. You could tell that the family who owned the brewery was truly dedicated to the work they do, and that they took pride in the beer they created.

Something I wish people would have told me:

Using a public bathroom is NOT FREE! Who would have thought you would have to pay to relieve yourself?! At many public bathrooms, a dispenser is placed at the entrance of the restroom (or water closet, as it is called here), and people are not admitted to the toilets until they pay a fee, usually of around one euro. There have been many times when either Bif or myself has to “go,” and we have to drop our belongings to search our wallets for some spare euros.

Advice for traveling within Brussels:

Spring for the month bus pass – I regret not doing so. Upon arrival in Brussels, ISA provided each student with a MOBIB pass, which we load journeys on and scan before each ride on the public buses, trams, or the metro. I have been paying for five or ten journeys at a time, but it is extremely tedious to have to stock up on coins to load my card. A month pass is 49 euros, which is much cheaper and easier than paying for individual journeys, and can be purchased at local grocery stores. I will definitely be purchasing the month pass this week, as I am tired of begging people for coins in exchange for cash (these machines may you pay in coins or card with a chip).


Welcome to Germany! (This is the sign language sign for “Germany”)

In Germany:


Cologne street

Shopping in Cologne, Germany

Bif and I walked out of the train station in Cologne and were absolutely stunned by the massive Cologne Cathedral. Looking up at the huge establishment was nearly dizzying. I could hardly believe the building was real, and was not a banner or a picture. Walking inside of the cathedral was just as breath-taking. The ceilings and architecture were enormous and the stained glass windows were beautiful and full of history.

colorful houses

Cologne, Germany – I’ve seen this picture all over Pinterest, but I never thought I would get to photograph it myself!

The rest of Cologne was crowded and full of tourists, which made it the lesser favorite of the two cities we visited in Germany. Although I’m sure there were many wonderful things happening in Cologne, the area we were in was almost entirely dedicated to shopping, which is not kind to a college-kid’s wallet – or a suitcase with a 50 lb weight limit.



Düsseldorf, Germany

I fell in love with this city within an hour of our arrival. The train station was not in a city center, but rather a beautiful, quiet town. The fronts of the buildings were pale pastel colors, and the streets were lined with trees, making the town shady and peaceful. Bif and I dined at a vegan restaurant (neither of us are vegan, but it was the only place open at the time of day and we were very hungry) called Sattgrün, and I would definitely rate it as one of the top five meals in my lifetime. I was stuffed, but I was happy.

tour bus

On top of our tour bus in Düsseldorf


Düsseldorf was my favorite place.

On Sunday, we decided to be typical tourists, because there was no way we would be able to experience the sights of Düsseldorf by foot. We paid for a 24 hour hop-on-hop-of tourist bus, where we sat on the upper deck and enjoyed the beautiful sights of the town (and my shoulders got sunburned). The best part of the tour was our visit to the Rheinturm, which is a tower overlooking the entire city. We had a drink and ate cakes while sitting 168 meters in the air – it was wonderful!


The Rheinturm

vegan meal

A vegan meal in Düsseldorf

Culture shock and homesickness:

I have never experienced culture shock or homesickness in my life until this weekend, and my homesickness wasn’t even for Flint or Findlay. In Belgium, most people speak enough English to converse with me, or I speak enough French (though it is not much) to be able to figure out what I need to know. In much of Germany, people spoke no English. I could not understand what they were saying and I could not read the signs, as few German words resemble English. For the first time in my life, I was ready to go “home.” I was ready to be back in my apartment, I was ready to be understood by the people around me, and I was ready to know where I was and what was going on around me.

Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Germany and grew in my experiences, however I am looking forward to my next two weekend trips (Holland and Dublin), where I will be surrounded by people I can communicate with.

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