Five ‘Cultural Shocks’ when Moving into an International Dorm

Have you spent an exchange period abroad or are you planning to study in another country? One of the most defining factors that shape your time abroad is your accommodation. For many, this means spending a year or half a year in an international dorm. Although rewarding, living in a typical dorm can also present some unexpected hitches.

Im currently spending my time in Kyoto, Japan, and heres a listicle of some surprises Ive experienced since moving into my dorm. First world problems? Maybe, but so relatable all the same.

1. Kitchen Equipment

Its nice to have a common kitchen with all kinds of utensils and exotic spices that have accumulated there during the last years, but while some stuff is amazing (Japanese plastic wrap is so cool), some aspects can be found lacking. You may be in for a problem when people ask you to prepare some Finnish food – and there's no oven!

A convection microwave is typical in some countries, but its use can be a bit tricky. You might not be sure whether the settings are suitable for baking or if your mold or casserole even fits in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, they say – but maybe you don’t want to be the first one to try. 

Possible solution: if you want to be sure, you can always search the Internet for baking recipes that don't require the oven. Here’s a recipe for a delicious cheesecake.

2. Air Conditioning

If your destination is a warm country (and compared to Finland, almost any country is), you might have to get accustomed to electric air conditioning. Whether you want your room to be cool or warm, you first must figure out what all the different settings mean. If your body is not used to mechanical cooling of the air, you might end up catching a cold. The air conditioning itself doesn't usually cause colds, but cool air, artificial changes in the air humidity, possible crud and mold that come from the machine make you vulnerable to infections.

If you don’t want to be sick right from the start, learn how to use the air conditioning properly. Don’t keep it on during the night or when it’s not necessary; don’t set the humidity level too low, and don’t let the air blow straight towards where you are sitting.

3. It’s Time to Shower!

I once heard someone saying that it’s weird how characters in movies always know how to use the shower in a hotel room – especially in a different country. For example, faucets with different screws for hot and cold water are not that typical in Finland. When taking a shower, I’d like to save water by turning the faucet off while shampooing. On the other hand, I don’t want to spend time in the shower desperately trying to adjust the water temperature each time I turn on the faucet.

In Kyoto at least, it’s easy to burn your hands and feet and it may even seem possible to kill yourself with a tap. The water from a normal sink can be boiling hot, it warms up instantly and doesn't require pressing any safety button. It takes a couple of mornings to learn not to turn the lever left before opening the faucet.

It’s easy to get accustomed to these things, but it can also be frustrating if you try to preserve your established environmentally friendly habits.

4. Bugging Bugs

More a natural than a cultural phenomenon, bugs are prone to crawl their way into all kinds of shared apartments. The bugs in the international dorm are different in one fundamental way: they are different from what you know. Besides, no one seems to know what they do. The easiest (and most bug-friendly) way to deal with them is to try and create an environment that is not tempting for the harmful bugs and maybe just get used to living with the harmless ones. Non-humid room air, mosquito nets, tugging the cracks and slits and general cleanliness should do the trick.

5. Getting Way Too Used to Certain Things

While you’re not able to eat the same stuff you consume at home, you begin to develop some new eating habits. And since you're only abroad for a limited time and life in a different environment can be demanding – you might start granting yourself some freedom. Eating toast and greasy peanut butter for breakfast because you simply don’t have any porridge? Eating meat because it’s so difficult to find good vegetarian food? Sweet bread every night before bed because, hey it’s good and you deserve that. There’s nothing wrong with pampering yourself occasionally, but the mindset may become problematic if you get too used to it. One possible solution is simply granting yourself the right to eat what you want and enjoy new tastes while traveling, and for example trying a vegan month when returning home.

Remember that despite all the peculiarities and annoyances, leading a dorm life in the different country is your experience and you should try to enjoy it to the fullest! If nothing else, you have lots of stories to tell when you return home.

Pictures: Rafael De Nadai on Unsplash, Kirsten Maria Ebbesen on Unsplash, moreharmony on Pixabay