Culture shock

There’s a good chance that you will experience the well-known phenomenon called ‘culture shock’ when you arrive in your new country. Feelings of disorientation, confusion, alienation – even the most self-assured students can be hit with culture shock in the initial weeks of their time abroad. Not to worry! As you establish new routines and familiarise yourself with your new surroundings, you will find your balance and enthusiasm returning and soon culture shock will be a distant memory.

What’s going on?

Anytime we move from a well-known environment into unknown conditions, we are likely to feel a bit unsettled. Gone are your old touchstones and favourite places to hang out; now you have to go out and find new ones! Culture shock is simply the psychological reaction to finding yourself faced with different cultural cues.

Some things you can do to absorb the shock

Students find it helpful to establish a new routine quickly. Seek out a café that you’d like to use as your ‘headquarters’ and return there each day. The staff will get to know your face and begin to greet you warmly. This will make you feel anchored and welcome. Maybe you’d like to buy your morning bread or pastry at the same bakery each day; that, too, will give you an opportunity to make a neighbourhood connection and feel more local.

Keep your mind open and your mouth closed

Part of working through culture shock is keeping your mind open to the differences you are confronted with in your new environment. When you first arrive, you go through a honeymoon period, viewing everything in your new city as ‘awesome!’ Culture shock then brings on another, more challenging set of emotions. Suddenly it all seems so difficult: speaking in a foreign language, tasting new and different foods, trying to overcome the cultural differences... the bloom is off the rose and you feel less enchanted with your new life.

It is important to keep your chin up at this point. Resist the tendency to bash your adopted city and its people. Be mindful that even if some of these things are frustrating, it is all part of this cultural experience and it is contributing to your personal growth.

When you return back home

Be prepared to experience reverse culture shock when you return home. Your time abroad gave daily opportunities for discovery. Once back home, things seem boring. Your friends act disinterested when you try and tell them what life in a different country was all about. They may mock your new ‘European’ way of dressing and your different mannerisms. You may find the people in your native country incredibly provincial and unworldly. This is all part of reverse culture shock.

To help get over this, many students find it helpful to remain in touch with their overseas culture, through Facebook, expat groups and seeking out exchange students on your home campus. Integrating your experience abroad into your life back home will be important and enable you to keep close this important life-changing experience.

Tags: france, spain, italy, study, abroad, preparation, united-kingdom, germany, culture shock,