Cultural Shock on Leaving Silicon Valley

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When I first moved to Silicon Valley from France in second grade, I didn’t fully comprehend that I was about to throw myself into such a competitive environment. The second I entered the Silicon Valley, I was blown away by how different it was from my home. In France, kids were playing games, going to the pool and playing sports for fun after school. However in Palo Alto, kids were attending math classes, and already playing competitive sports.

As I got older the situation worsened, but I became so accustomed to it that it felt normal. Everything turned into a competition, whether it was which math class I was taking, which volleyball team I was making, what grade I was getting on an English paper or even how many hours of sleep I was getting. I soon became numb to the classic, “I can’t believe I did so bad on this test! I got a B!” or the, “I got an A without even studying for this quiz!”.

When I entered my sophomore year, many of my friends and peers began to take computer science (CS)-oriented classes. I started to feel unintelligent, and at times I would wonder whether I should be taking a CS class even though I wasn’t even the least bit interested in computer science.

A few months into the first semester of sophomore year, I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I was stressed, unhappy and always felt inferior to my peers. I always felt that I was competing with others, and that they were always doing better than me. Even though none of my peers really seemed that much happier than me, I felt like they were all succeeding while I was drowning. I soon started to think of ways that I could change my life, and make myself happier. When my sister had been a sophomore, she had gone on a semester abroad to Israel and had loved it. The program was based in Jerusalem, and focused on learning about Israel and connecting to our Jewish heritage. They still did schoolwork, but a lot of the time was spent out in nature learning about the country, and its history. At first I hadn’t considered going because I was scared of leaving my friends and getting a worse education, but the idea of leaving pulled at me, and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to Palo Alto for four months.

The moment I arrived in Israel, the culture shock hit me. Granted, I was in a country with a completely different language, but it wasn’t just that. When I started to get to know the people that were in my program, I was shocked at how different they were than many of the people I knew back at home. It felt so freeing to be able to talk with others about topics that interested me, rather than classes, grades and colleges. I discovered that many people had different passions, and that for many it wasn’t all about getting into Stanford. It struck me that all my friends in Israel were passionate about so many things that had nothing to do with college. In Palo Alto, I had known so many people who were doing extracurriculars just because of their college applications, but my friends in Israel were doing things they loved.The whole purpose of our trip was to do something we loved.

The four months in Israel were by far the best and some of the most important moments of my life. I discovered that life wasn’t all about getting into an Ivy League or being in the highest math lane like people at Gunn had led me to believe. I wanted to do things that made me happy, and that made me grow as a person. When I returned home my mindset was completely changed. I signed up for classes that I wanted to take and that I was passionate about, and I dropped the extracurriculars that were making me stressed and unhappy. I stopped doing things because others were doing them, and I started doing them for myself.

All in all, leaving the Silicon Valley is one of the best things you can do. It will open your eyes to the prevailing culture of the Silicon Valley, and will make you realize just how many more important things are in the world.