Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | August 13, 2009

Help! I’m living a culture shock!

Part of discovering the world is to travel, and part of traveling is to experience culture shock.

Furnham brings the fascinating point that culture shock can be described (and experienced) on three levels, not just one.  The sort of horrified, I-want-to-go-back-home, and confusion feeling represents the affective dimension.  On the behavior level, you’ll wonder what’s proper in terms of conventions, rules, etiquette, and you will be very confused at first.  Even conducting small talk will be a tough game.  The last dimension is cognitive and it is basically the unability to interpret what is going on because you lack the knowledge to make sense of what is happening around you.

There are two ways that people deal with culture shock, typically.  Take a moment and think about how you’ve been coping with this lately.  The first option you have is to avoid all situations which you’ll find stressful.  It’s you trying to controle the environment so that it matches what you believe and want to feel.  That’s what we call the primary strategy, and it’s all about the actions you take.  The second way you can deal with it is by trying to learn, and change your perception of what happens, and it’s about what and how you think – secondary strategies is what this is called.  Because it will always be easier to controle how you think rather than to controle external factors in your environment, it’s been shown that students who use secondary strategies reduce their perceived stress level and are less prone to depression.

Some things you can do that would help is to first write down what you experience, keep a journal to reflect on it.  Also try to have ties to people around you (both friends, and aquaintances).  Some other recommendations are quite simple : because the experience can be draining, if you are tired, take a break, take a nap, listen to your body.  You can also try sharing what you’ve learned with a newly arrived student from your country – it will probably boost up your self-esteem.  Call or write back home to let everyone know about how you are doing – if you keep a blog, for instance, it can help later when you re-enter, as your friends will have followed your adventures with you.  And if you don’t speak the local language, learning it might help you feel more at ease and be more accepted into your new community.

If you’re living the culture shock of going back home, different actions are in order : Use what you’ve learned while abroad to re-adjust to your own culture.  Catch up on what has happened as you were away – no doubts your family and friends will have things to tell you, too.  If people ask you about your experience, keep it short and simple – put yourself in your shoes and try to figure out what they’d be most happy to hear about.  If they want more details, they will ask.  Go to your Rotary club and other Rotaract clubs (or any organization where people travel a lot) to share your experience – while you’re out there, keep an eye for friendly Rotarians or Rotaractors who will approach you because a great number of them have experienced what you are experienced.  You will develop a special complicity with them as you are now part of a new community.  Last, while it’s important to keep in touch with the people you’ve met abroad, and to look at things that remind you of your trip, don’t forget to be active in your own community and have fun with your friends at home, too.



  1. The real traveler is the one that is hard to recognize in a new environment. It may be easy to integrate if you mimic the local habits and share the local culture with new people… as long as they are not in a fundamental contradiction with your basic values.

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