December 3, 2012

Surviving Culture Shock When You Are Studying Abroad

Studying abroad can be an exciting experience as you get to travel to a new land and learn about new people and new customs. For many, the chance to live and study abroad is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. However, many students who study abroad suffer culture shock during their first weeks or months in their new country.

Culture shock is a feeling of disorientation of living in a new country. It can include feelings of loneliness, boredom, or even hostility toward the new culture. Culture shock can make it difficult to adjust to the new place and to enjoy the experience of studying abroad. Learning ways to cope with culture shock can  help you to adjust quickly and create an enjoyable experience that you can remember for years to come.

Here are a few tips for how you can survive culture shock when you are studying abroad.

Research before You Go
Take the time to research your new city and country before you leave and learn as much about the new place as you can. Doing so will help you become more familiar with the place and know what to expect, making the place and the customs seem less "strange" or "different." 

Take the time to learn about social customs and local traditions. Learn a few words or phrases in the new language (or a few slang expressions particular to the local culture if you already know the language). Look up what stores and attractions are near where you live, both for entertainment and for finding items that you need. The more you know before you leave, the less "shock" you are likely to experience when you arrive.

Adjust Your Expectations
Many students experience culture shock because they are unable to do the things they are accustomed to doing at home. This may include purchasing or ordering foods they are used to eating at home, getting around in the same manner (such as driving or driving on a certain side of the road), or being able to communicate in a certain way or rely on certain customs.

It is important to adjust your expectations before you go, preparing for the changes you are likely to encounter and coming to terms with the fact that things are likely to be very different than what you have come to expect in your own day-to-day life.

Be Flexible
An open mind can make difference in your experience. If you come to view certain local foods as "disgusting" or certain social customs as "strange" or "weird," you are more likely to view the local culture as foreign or even hostile.

Keeping an open mind can help you to more readily accept the new people and the new customs you are likely to encounter. Keeping an open mind can foster a spirit of tolerance, curiosity, and adventure, making the experience a much more enjoyable one.

Continue Previous Activities
By continuing to enjoy some of the activities you previously enjoyed, you can help create some stability and continuity that will make other changes easier to bear. If you were active before, continue to exercise by attending a local gym or participating in local sports. If you enjoyed hobbies at home, find the supplies or an outlet to continue that new hobby in your new culture.

Continuing some of these activities in your new home will help you to acclimate more quickly to your new routine and new surroundings while also enjoying something that you knew previously.

Culture shock can make adjusting to your new home more difficult, putting a damper on your study abroad experience. Finding ways to overcome culture shock can help you acclimate more quickly and get the most you can out of the experience.

How did you adjust to culture shock when you were studying abroad? Share your experiences in the comments!

Bridget Sandorford is a freelance writer and researcher for, where recently she’s been researching executive chefs. In her spare time, she enjoys biking, painting and working on her first cookbook.

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