I’ve been in Doha a little over than 24 hours now, so I can’t pretend to be some kind of expert. But I’m reminded for every wonderful experience I have here – the scenery! The generous people! The air conditioning! – living in a new culture can make smart people feel very stupid. For example, I have been unable to work the following devices:

  • Washer. I put soap in, read the manual, pushed the right buttons, and still the darn thing won’t wash my clothes. 
  • Any appliance that involves me plugging something into the wall. You really have to SHOVE the appliance plug into the wall outlet here. I mean, put your whole weight behind it and risk electrocution or breaking the plug SHOVE. Plus, American appliances need an adapter, so multiply the shoving by two.
  • The lock to the door. This one probably isn’t a cultural difference, since I’m generally inept at unlocking things anyway.
  • Dishwasher. I opened the dishwasher this morning and found this:ImageWhat in the world is this? How is it part of the dishwasher? Is it connected to the fact that there is no clear (to me) place to put silverware in the dishwasher?

I imagine that many international students in American universities are a little like me – well educated, fairly well informed on my new culture, and excited to live a new kind of life. But material realities, like learning (and failing at!) how to take care of yourself, continuously remind you that you aren’t from here and don’t do things the way people living here do things. I know how to walk the walk and talk the talk in other areas of my life, like how well I understood the functions and trappings of my new university even though I haven’t worked there before. However, the changes in everyday living probably unnerve my students, much like they unnerve me. (But, of course, I’m happy for the opportunity to try and learn exactly how Celsius works!)