Dealing With Culture Shock

It’s valuable to take some time to investigate the things that will happen to you as you mingle with people who maintain different values, traits, and characteristics. 

What are Cultural Differences?

We are surrounded by elements in our own culture that influence whom we are and how we relate to the world. Since we have grown up with this culture, we are comfortable in it and sometimes unaware of the characteristics of our culture until confronted with contradicting ideas.

When you suddenly lose cues and symbols that orient you to situations of what we consider "normal" daily life or when the cultural facial expressions, gestures, and words are no longer familiar, the psychological discomfort which we feel in this foreign situation is commonly known as culture shock.

Reactions to Cultural Differences

Culture shock is a logical reaction to differences we encounter in a foreign culture. Luckily, it is only one phase in the process of getting involved in the culture of a foreign country. The various phases that you may experience include:

  1. Being fascinated with all the new things you are experiencing
  2. Feeling uncomfortable because you feel as if you don't belong
  3. Rejecting and labeling the foreign culture and people as being strange
  4. Learning to decipher foreign behavior and customs
  5. Accepting and enjoying the foreign culture

Preparing for Cultural Differences

In order to gain some perspective, read as much as possible about where you are going. Good sources include guidebooks, foreign and international newspapers and magazines, novels, plays, poetry, and political and economic analyses.

Talk with international students, veteran travelers, and your Study Abroad Office advisor for any advice or recommendations.

Getting Over Culture Shock

Handle culture shock with an open mind, positive attitude, high level of adaptability, sense of humor, and a lot of common sense. Give yourself time to adapt to the cultural differences. You may even find that many of the differences are a pleasant change from the way of life in the U.S. Taking an active interest in finding meanings and values behind unfamiliar customs expands your horizons and adds the wealth of another culture to your experience and knowledge.