• Living abroad

When we are immersed in a new culture and an unknown reality, it is normal to feel a bit of uneasiness. This is what we call "culture shock". This shock can influence your personal relations, health and even damage your progress while studying abroad. For many people, it is very difficult to avoid culture shock. Its intensity can vary from one person to another, but it affects most people. However, it is possible to manage its effects and turn it into a positive experience. Many people claim that the most worthwhile exchanges happen only when they feel a strong sense of culture shock.

Culture shock in 4 steps

1. Euphoria of the departure: everything is wonderful and exciting. You appreciate the change of scenery and the cultural differences. In a certain way this is the “honeymoon” period.
2. Frustration about cultural differences: certain aspects of the new culture annoy you and the collective behaviour seems sometimes incomprehensible and absurd, for example: the relations between men and women, the language barrier, communication difficulties with people of the other culture, the dirtiness of the city, etc.
3. Urge to drop everything: the attempts to fit in and arrange things do not seem to work. You lose interest in the culture of the host country. You think about going back home.
4. Getting back on one’s feet: you stop making comparisons. You accept things the way they are and you let go of the idea of thinking how things should be. You feel that you are adapting better to the new environment. Everything seems easier and you take advantage of it. You start accepting that the new culture has positive and negative things to offer.

How to identify the state of culture shock:

  • You are more irritable usual and you feel nostalgic.
  • You compare and criticise in a disproportionate way.
  • You feel a strong temptation to reject the incomprehensible and unwanted aspects of the new culture.
  • You feel frustrated and like you’re in over your head.
  • You want to drop everything. 

How to overcome culture shock:

  • Have realistic expectations or even don’t have any expectations.
  • Accept and respect the differences even when you can’t understand them.
  • Take a step back and look at the situation with a sense of humour.
  • Accept the difficulty and give yourself the time you need.
  • Focus on developing intercultural communication abilities (tolerance, sensibility, listening and observation).
  • Get involved in all the activities offered by the host establishment.
  • Look for contact with local students and/or those who are having the same experience (the other students in the exchange programme).
  • Get in touch with the contact-person of the host establishment to ask advice about cultural integration or even help if necessary.