If you’ve ever spent time outside the U.S., or even in a different part of the country, you’ve surely noticed that people in different places do things differently. Watch a few minutes of “House Hunters International” and you’ll hear Americans freak out over tiny fridges, ovens too small for the Thanksgiving turkey, and the absence of clothes dryers. Adjusting to life in a foreign environment is challenging. Culture Shocks, NPT’s latest Next Door Neighbors documentary, is an entertaining look at what stood out to three people who now call Middle Tennessee home. Next Door Neighbors: Culture Shocks premieres on-air and online Monday, May 22, at 8 p.m. WPLN’s Nina Cardona narrates the documentary. The Little Things, a companion series of video shorts, is available on NPT’s YouTube channel.
Additional broadcast times for Next Door Neighbors: Culture Shocks on NPT are Sunday, May 28, at 6:30 p.m.; Monday, May 29, at 11:30 p.m.; Thursday, June 2, at 8 p.m.; and Friday June 30 at 11:30 p.m. Airtimes on NPT2 are Saturday, May 27, at 5 p.m. and Sunday, May 28, at 1 p.m.
The documentary was produced by Megan Grisolano, NPT’s executive producer, who lived in Madrid, Spain, for over six years. During that time, she turned her observations and experiences of differences between the U.S. and Spain into a Spanish-language YouTube channel (@MEGrisolano) that has 75,000 subscribers and 15 million views. Upon returning to her home state of Tennessee, Grisolano began to wonder what might seem odd to those who moved here from other countries.
Culture Shocks features Sadie Wang, an award-winning maker of jewelry and hollowware born in Taiwan; artist and educator Cephas Ablakwa, Ph.D., originally from Ghana; and Alexis Baez, who moved to the U.S. after meeting his Peace Corps-serving wife in his home country of Paraguay. In the documentary, the three talk about getting used to the concept of pet food (as opposed to feeding dogs leftovers from their owners’ meals); home mail delivery, and the subtleties of presenting and eating certain foods.
While some of what Ablakwa, Baez and Wang notice about life in Middle Tennessee might also stand out to transplants from, say, the Northeast, their observations speak to experience of adjusting to life well beyond one’s comfort zone. These Tennesseans maintain an outsider’s ability to recognize the quirks and peculiarities of customs and yet are now fully versed in American society and – use that knowledge to help others.
“I easily noticed those kids that were immigrants themselves, whether they’re from Mexico or Europe or any other place and noticed the difficulty that they went through,” Ablakwa says in Culture Shocks. “So, I was always trying to make myself available to them because I know what it is to be new in a culture.”
“I’ve really experienced both cultures, so it’s like 50/50,” Baez says of enjoying his annual visits to Paraguay, but also missing the U.S. after a few days. “I need both of the cultures.”
“I don’t really know when I started to feel like Tennessee’s home, but … I have lived here a long time and established my own friend circle,” Wang says in Culture Shocks. “Before you know it, it just totally feels like home to me.”
NPT’s Next Door Neighbors series looks at Nashville’s status as a destination city for refugees and immigrants and explores the rich diversity of people now calling Nashville home. Through documentaries, extensive outreach and continued relationships with Nashville’s immigrant and refugee communities, the Next Door Neighbors project aims to increase understanding of unfamiliar cultures, highlight the experiences and successes of Nashville’s immigrants, and mediate a community-wide conversation about who we are as Nashvillians.
NPT’s Next Door Neighbors: Culture Shocks is made possible by the generous support of the Nissan Foundation.