Moving from familiar to an unfamiliar environment, leaving one’s own country; family and friends, is not the easy decision but curiosity to learn, bright future, a better quality of life, and desire to explore the world supersedes those fears. After moving to a new culture, in the beginning, we feel anxiety, low moods, isolation due to differences in values, climate, food, languages etc. but positive-minded individuals end up learning new and worthy life experiences. I think most of the Non-EU ESRs particularly from the east, are exposed to this phenomenon of culture shock. I would not delve much into what culture shock is because already myriad literature exists about it. Instead I would like to share my few (by the way there are more) experiences about what I found distinctive, avant-garde and unforgettable in IMDEA materials and Spain. I belong to the south Asian country, Pakistan and spent my last two years in an East Asian country, South Korea. Joining IMDEA materials as BioImplant ITN Ph.D. fellow has been a unique experience and since IMDEA is in Spain. . . I was also exposed to a new culture as well.
After moving to IMDEA, I noticed a big difference between Supervisor-Student relationships. For instance, in conversation with my supervisors in the meeting I was attaching the word “Professor” or “Sir” before their name because that is what we do in the east. But it was very shocking for me when my supervisors asked me to call them directly by name. They and the culture of IMDEA made me realize that age or position does not matter, in IMDEA we all are equal. I came to know that this trend exists in Spain and many other EU countries as well. At first glance, this small incidence looks normal but if we perceive it from the eyes of someone from the east then it is something big. Now, I know that by removing the titles, “respect is not compromised” instead it reduces the gap between senior and junior, increases the efficiency of subordinate and boosts up the trust. Another perk of the MSCA BioImplant project is the diverse multicultural exposure. We are 3 BioImplant ESRs in IMDEA materials. Interestingly we all are of different nationalities. I also got a chance to learn a lot from their history, cultures and traditions with a cup of coffee.
Moving to Spain for a Ph.D. is also a great opportunity for tourism. I have visited many historical sites, plazas and parks. I would share an observation from my visit to the Spanish Parliament because what I learned from there was very important for someone from the east. It is very fine architecture built with care. When I went inside the main hall I saw bullet holes on the roof. I was very curious to know why these were there or why have they not repaired it yet? My curiosity aroused and I asked a Spanish friend about it. He told me the story of a failed coup during which many bullets hit the roof. These holes are not repaired even until now because these act as a reminder for the importance and cost of democracy. That day I understood how crucial democratic culture is and we should work for implementing similar systems in the east which is struggling from coups and inefficient democracies.
Finally, I would close the discussion with remarks that culture shock is a reality and there is nothing bad in experiencing it but it can be tackled by visiting historical buildings and exploring interesting stories attached to them, meeting with people and observing cultural differences from a learning perspective.