If you had a chance to travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Mexico… Germany...the United States… Africa? Traveling anywhere is fun, but for many of us, the farther away the better. Unfamiliar locations mean exciting experiences, and a chance to push our boundaries.
Why do you think people love overseas gap year and study abroad programs? They have so many ways to help you experience new things: new countries, new cultures, new foods, new...well, just about everything. You will most likely have a few awkward moments and uncomfortable experiences along the way, because that’s a part of immersing yourself in a new culture. In fact, if you don’t experience a little bit of culture shock, you might be getting far enough out of your comfort zone.
Fortunately, Up with People knows a lot about culture shock. We’ve been sending casts out on worldwide tours for over 50 years, so we’ve put together some helpful tips for how to handle those awkward moments and turn your “shock” into an unforgettable learning experience.
What is Culture Shock?
The dictionary defines culture shock as, “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.” Culture shock happens when you travel to a place that is foreign to you, and you experience uncomfortable feelings, when the culture, social norms, way of life or set of attitudes are different than those of your own. Culture shock is a completely normal piece of world travel.
People experience and deal with culture shock differently — just like how everyone looks through life through their own lens. Some may experience slight culture shock, while others might feel like they are entering another universe. But don’t let that discourage or scare you, you will adjust to the new culture with time. Letting yourself experience culture shock as it unfolds, and learning from it, will help you in your future trips.
9 Tips to Take the “Shock” Out of Culture Shock
- Learn as much as you can about your host country. Before you pack your bags and jet set, know the foundation for your experience. Look up the language, the norms, the culture and the people, then you will see what you’re getting yourself into.
- Practice getting outside of your comfort zone before you ever leave home. Try new foods, visit the related areas of your town, and start to explore the culture any way you can.
- Set learning goals. For example, pledge to try something new – like a local food – each week. If that means eating something more exotic than you’re used to at home, remember that you’re here to push your limits.
- Make new friends from the area — which should be a priority, anyway. They can be your “ambassadors,” helping you become more familiar with the subtleties of the culture, like the right way and wrong way to greet people. They can also recommend places to go — or even take you to the area’s hot spots, restaurants, and hidden gems.
- Be a tourist! Don’t be afraid to go to that cheesy attraction or eat your sixth crepe of the day in France. You shouldn’t be ashamed of the locals knowing you’re a non-native.
- Find someone from your own culture (or a similar one) and become friends! It’s much easier to go through a new experience with someone else who understands what you’re going through. That’s one of the benefits of traveling in a group program like Up with People!
- Keep a journal and write down your thoughts and feelings. What do you like or not like? Why are you feeling the way you are feeling? Remember to talk to your fellow travelers about how you’re feeling, because they might be experiencing the same thing!
- Do something familiar to get over any “speed bumps.” Bring something that reminds you of home, whether it’s eating your favorite treat, listening to your favorite music or asking for packages from home. It’s healthy to stay in touch with your roots.
- Most importantly, remember to have fun! You are in a foreign country with endless opportunities. Make the most of it. YOLO — you only live once!
Exploring new cuisine, ziplining over a rainforest, learning a foreign language, and hiking up a mountain are only a few of the hundreds of opportunities for adventure while abroad. The experience, while challenging at times, is something that one can only go through first-hand.
While culture shock may be unfamiliar to you at first, it will become a thing of the past — one of the many memories on your trip of a lifetime.