Lessening the Effects of Culture Shock When Studying or Vacationing Abroad |ReDefiners World Languag
Updated: Oct 26
Put simply, culture shock is discomfort felt by anyone who is experiencing a new culture, lifestyle or world view. In a way, culture shock is inevitable in situations such as vacations or studying abroad, and it can happen no matter how much time you spend in a new country. However, although anyone can encounter it, your chances of experiencing it can be exacerbated by any cultural bias or stereotypes you might hold. For example, it is an unfortunate stereotype that Parisians are rude and impatient. If you go to Paris expecting that people will mistreat you, you will be much more uncomfortable than if you traveled with an open mind and a positive attitude.
So, how do you know if you or someone around you is experiencing culture shock? Along with negative reactions to the new culture and stereotyping, there are many signs and symptoms:
Sleeping too much or too little
If you’re not careful, culture shock can have a detrimental effect on your travel or study abroad experience. So to avoid it, ask yourself what you’re planning to get out of your experience. Do you want to make connections with people? Watch out for isolation and irritability. Learn a new language? Examine your biases and stereotypes. Study history or try out some of the food and drink? Depression and sleep problems will rob you of your motivation to go out and experience new things.
So how can you avoid the negative effects of culture shock? Preparation. There are many things you can do before, during, and after your trip to ensure that you have a positive experience.
What to do before the trip
A great way to start is to find a good travel guide and read up about the country. As opposed to relying on information you may have heard informally, you will be learning from experts with extensive experience. Therefore, you can trust the information and anything the author tells you to watch out for. Something else is to enroll in some language classes. Arguably, meeting people and interacting with the natives is the number one goal of studying or vacationing abroad. Most people will be really pleased if you can ask simple questions or say some basic words in their language. This will get you really far.
Prepare for the trip by examining your attitudes about the host country. If they’re generally positive, great! But if you harbor any negative views, ask yourself how you can stay open-minded so that your experience will be more fun and educational. For example, don’t just rely on what you have seen on the news. Seek out opportunities to talk to someone from that country. Most people are really appreciative when people show interest in their culture and would be more than happy to dispel the myths.
What to do during the trip
There are vast differences between most cultures, so no one expects you to have memorized them all before your trip. At the same time, be aware, keep your eyes open and be prepared for surprises. Let’s take the example of how "time" is perceived among various cultures: Americans, Germans and Scandinavians have a linear sense of time. To them, time is money and punctuality is important. On the other hand, Italians and Spaniards, value relationships over punctuality. It’s more important to finish a conversation with a friend than to be on time to a meeting. Differences in the sense of time can cause a lot of conflict and confusion. Expect to encounter it. So, whether it’s time or some other major cultural difference, it’s important to remember that not everyone is like you. This may seem to be an obvious statement, but it deserves emphasis. You’ll be happy you had this in mind the first time your Italian friend is late for a meeting!
What to do when you return to the United States
Now that you’ve returned from your trip abroad, be sure to share your experiences with other Americans. Along with sharing the fun of your experience, you can help people lessen the effects of culture shock by emulating the process you followed. At the same time, learning about a culture is not just something you do in preparation for a trip. It can help you relate more to people in the U.S who come from different cultures.
At the end of the day, one of the most important reasons to travel is to be able to relate to people from different cultures. Something that can help you do that is to continue your language studies.
ReDefiners World Languages offers communication-based language classes, so you can learn how to make connections and not just a bunch of grammar rules that you can’t use.
For more information about studying a new language, volunteering or even donating to support language program scholarships to underserved populations, visit www.redefinerswl.org or email email@example.com.