Monday, November 19, 2007


Cultural adjustment is ineluctable when someone moves to a new place. The period to adjust depends on the personality of each person; however the more people are informed, the shorter time they need to adapt to the new environment. A place you may go and visit later is Urbana-Champaign, Illinois and you would possibly face difficulties in locating a building or house. The town is created in 1833 and has been developing slowly; it is quite old and small (no skyscrapers or whatever), but is known as the home of the University of Illinois (when spoken quickly, sounds like U v I). Visitors and new students, particularly international students, might confront inconvenience when locating a point in the town because of the weird system of street numbers. They might feel difficult to look for street numbers, to remember those numbers and to predict exactly a location; these problems partly reflect the differences in cultural customs.

First of all, it is stiff to check street numbers. Simply, they are not big enough to read. The big letters of numbers are extremely expected for the shortsighted, drivers and motor riders. When driving with high speed on Prospect Avenue or even sitting on a moving bus, people (for sure) couldn’t see small letters clearly. Oh gosh, street numbers are not always written on front doors, but sometimes on the ground, the curb, the rear side of the houses or even somewhere else (who knows). The inconvenience also comes from the fact that several buildings do not show out their numbers; for instance, there are no numbers at the adjacent shops “The Canopy” and “The Bread Company” on Goodwin Avenue. Visitors who are get used to look for street numbers on high buildings, the banners or advertisement message boards in front of buildings would get disappointed or eye problems in Urbana-Champaign. When going along Green Street, from a very far distance one is able to see the advertisement banner of a bookstore “Follet’s Bookstore”; however, the information of street number is not printed anywhere on it; binoculars or telescope don’t help here. Furthermore, in some cases, the street numbers cannot be seen since they are covered by bushes or trees. The addresses of even big and tall buildings like the Environmental Health and Safety Building at 101 S. Gregory Street could only be seen when you walk right there and push out bushes, and voila, the number is hidden behind the bush.

Although people sometimes are able to see the small letters of street numbers, they still couldn’t clearly confirm which position of the street they are standing. Vietnamese students probably lose a way easily because of the wide gap of numbers, polar direction and the way of numbering. I experienced this situation once when I tried to look for the shop at 2002 W. Springfield Avenue. Two buildings on Springfield Avenue opposite to each other thru Mattis Avenue show very different numbers; one is 1704 W. and the other is 2017 W. Springfield Avenue (gosh, how can). There was no way to know where 2002 W. Springfield is, even by asking local people (maybe the shop is under the Witness Protection Law). Another difference is the streets are divided into 2 parts according to the polar direction, so depending on where a street is, it may be divided into west and east or south and north. For instance, Nevada Street consists of west and east, but people might not know whether they are on west or east of Nevada Street since the street sign does not show it. To illustrate, no polar direction appears in street signs in the intersection of Goodwin Avenue and Nevada Street; Wright Street and Green Street; Oregon Street and Mathews Avenue. More terribly, no indication of the beginning and ending of a polar direction is presented; hence, visitors do not know that 1406 E. Springfield Avenue is the last number on the west side of this avenue unless they go right there. Sometimes people may go from the number 1200 W. Springfield Avenue to smaller west numbers such as 1000 W. then 800 W. and innocently believe that they will see 1 E. Springfield Avenue but actually they should follow the reverse way to able to get there (poor them). Going to a new place, visitors often expect to visit the center of a city or town (in vietnamese, we say “đến Trung tâm thành phố”); unfortunately they couldn’t identify where the center is in Urbana-Champaign because buildings are not numbered from the centre of town. Hence, on important events such as the Independence Day, it is not easy to determine the center of town to go there and participate into those festival events.

Furthermore, it seems to be difficult to memorize street numbers. Some numbers are really big, such as 2452 and 3159 E. Springfield Avenue. Living in small cities, vietnamese (or at least myself) usually do not expect street number greater than 1000. Additionally, the street number is actually mixed by numbers and letters. The visitors may remember 100 W. Green Street instead of 100 E. Green Street.

The troubles above might reflect the differences in culture. Americans appear not to pay attention to the building number, but the name of the building or the brand of a company. In a market society, the brand or trademark is crucial; Americans are likely to pay attention to proper names, not just numbers. Therefore, visitors should ask for names of buildings; for example they possibly get the right direction when asking for the way to go to Meijer shop instead of finding a specific number on Prospect Avenue. Another difference is that American people often go out of the town for picnics on weekends and holidays, but Asian people have a tradition to gather in the center of their towns or cities on those days (though now more Vietnamese people want to go out of city). This habit may explain for the scatter system of numbering in the United States.

It may be concluded that visitors and first-year students possibly feel a bit awkward in finding a location in Urbana-Champaign because of differences in street numbers; they are highly recommended to bring a detailed map, not just the bus schedule when going out (and better to bring a GPS). Anyhow, sometimes I miss and wanna go back Illinois and Urbana- Champaign, where people might die of corn (and corn anywhere).