Dealing With Culture Shock

If you’ve traveled outside of your home country, then you have most likely experienced culture shock. Culture shock refers to the physical and psychological impact of moving from your original, familiar culture to a new, unfamiliar one. This can be seen in differences in climate, food, language, values, dress, and etiquette, and social norms.            

Culture shock is a process that studies have divided into six groups. First, there’s the preliminary stage, where you learn about the culture and prepare for your journey; Second is the honeymoon stage, which describes the initial euphoria you’ll feel when you first visit a new country; Third is irritability, where coping with simple, everyday life in a new culture feels foreign; Fourth is a gradual adjustment, where the culture becomes more familiar and you understand how to orient yourself; Fifth is adaptation where you’ve learned how to function and become a part of this new culture; The sixth stage is re-entry, where you’ve returned home and realize that you and your values may have changed.

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I did a student exchange program in high school where I spent about a month in Germany with an exchange family in the summer of 2017. I had no knowledge about the effects of culture shock, so, here are some things I wish I had known before I got on the plane.

Sometimes, being abroad is going to suck. There were points where I wanted to lock myself in my room and not come out until the trip was over. I missed my family, friends, and my life back home.

Communication is tough but stick with it. The exchange program I was in was the result of taking German classes in high school. Thus began a long series of conversations where I embarrassed myself trying to speak in another language. However, the experience taught me that even though I couldn’t understand everything, I had to keep speaking and listening if I wanted to improve. 

Try any and all interesting new foods or activities you see. You never know if you’ll like something or not, so just try everything!

Most people who have gone abroad have gone through the same thing you are. Always remember that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling. For me, there was a surprising amount of comfort in realizing that awkwardness and confusion is part of the experience.

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Traveling abroad is a wonderful experience that can challenge your world views and allow you to meet many interesting people. Traveling is not always romantic, so prepare yourselves for the emotions that come with any culture shock you might experience. Happy travels!