Infographic: Why culture shock is good for you

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Coping strategies

Probably the best strategy for coping with the various impacts of culture shock is to make a conscious effort to adjust to the new culture. Here are some suggestions on how to make yourself feel more at home in your new surroundings:

  • Admit frankly that these impacts exist. It is not a sign of weakness to admit that you feel uncomfortable, tense or confused.
  • Learn the rules of living in your host country. Try to understand how and why the local people act the way they do. Their behaviour and customs, although they may be different from your own, are neither better nor worse than what you are used to.
  • Get involved in some aspect of the new culture. Whether you study art or music, or learn a new sport or martial art, being an interested student will make a world of difference.
  • Take time to learn the language. It always helps to understand as much as possible of what people are saying. They will appreciate your effort to communicate with them in their language, even if it is just a few simple phrases, and it will make your daily life much easier.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise and take the time to sleep. Limit your alcohol consumption to moderate amounts.
  • Travel. Take the time to be a tourist and explore the country’s sights.
  • Make friends and develop relationships. Getting to know local people will help you overcome cultural differences and understand the country. It will also show you how to be more sensitive to cultural norms and expectations.
  • Maintain contact with friends and family back home. Writing home about your experiences and problems can help you sort through them. It is also a good idea to keep a journal of your feelings and thoughts.
  • Do something that reminds you of home. Listening to your favourite music or practising a familiar hobby can boost your spirits when you are feeling homesick.
  • Avoid idealizing life back home. Try to make the most of your stay and consciously adopt an open mind.

When you talk to seniors about their memories and life experiences, most of them would tell you that some of their most beautiful and meaningful moments occurred when they stepped outside of their comfort zone.

As busy adults, we tend to slip into monotony and routine far too easily. Traveling to a foreign country is one of the best ways to step outside your established comfort zone. There are so many people who dream about traveling and living abroad, yet many of them fail to realize that dream. The fear of facing unfamiliarity and experiencing culture shock deters many from starting their journey.

Culture shock can be best described as emotional disorientation characterized by feelings of shock and anxiety. It occurs when you are placed in a foreign environment far away from your hometown, family, and friends. Most people experience a degree of homesickness and distress at the start of their travels. Being exposed to a different language, sights, smells, people, and an entirely new culture can be both an exhilarating and overwhelming experience.

Although the majority of people who travel abroad experience a degree of culture shock, it is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, experiencing culture shock is a very positive thing, especially during young adulthood, because it gives you the opportunity to learn about yourself, teaches you how to think on your feet and adapt, and presents you with the opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely new culture, and then emerge as a global citizen.

Here are five reasons for why experiencing culture shock is actually good for you:

1. Experiencing culture shock will shape your personality significantly by teaching you to trust your gut, survive during periods of loneliness and unfamiliarity, and develop a thicker skin.

People experience tremendous personal growth when they are facing vulnerability. Yes, being in an unfamiliar environment can be scary, uncomfortable, and confusing. However, those moments shape who you are as a person by helping you discover your capabilities and what you are made of. Stressful situations expose character, and more often than not, help to build it too.

2. Experiencing culture shock by coming into contact with a new language will force you to adapt and learn the new language quickly.

Knowing a secondary language is becoming a necessity in our interconnected world. Learning a language in a classroom is quite different than immersing yourself in a new culture and learning the language on your feet. Language and thought are connected, so by learning a new language, you will gain an opportunity to think differently as well.

3. After the effects of culture shock subside and you become more comfortable in your new surroundings, you will have an opportunity to expand your circle of friends to include people from all over the world.

One of the best things about traveling and living abroad is meeting new people and fostering friendships with others. Meeting people who have different perspectives, backgrounds, and life experiences can be a transformative experience because it often shapes you into a more open-minded individual. Likewise, it also opens doors of opportunities for you in other parts of the world that would otherwise be inaccessible to you.

4. You should never be afraid of culture shock because getting to know an entirely new culture is a tremendously exciting and liberating experience.

When you travel or live abroad, you will have the opportunity to see things you may not otherwise see, and do fun and unique things that you can’t do in your home country. Imagine how exciting it would be ride an elephant in Southeast Asia, travel through the rice fields in China, walk through the Red Square in Russia or explore the Amazon basin in Brazil. Exploring a new culture by discovering its music, trying new foods and learning about the history and traditions of your destination not only enriches you as an individual, but also adds valuable life experience that you will remember in old age.

5. Experiencing culture shock will teach you the valuable lesson that this world is a small place, and that despite our differences, we are all similar and interconnected.

Despite variation in cultures, languages and ethnicities, we all share similar aspirations: to find love, enjoy what we do, protect our family and loved ones and earn a good living. Traveling abroad truly reinforces the idea that we all share the same human experience on this incredibly beautiful planet.

If you are currently a university student, I encourage you to leave your comfort zone and inhibitions behind and embark on a journey. There are many options available through university exchange programs or through international internships via your local AIESEC chapter. AIESEC offers students the opportunity to participate in international internships and explore the world. Stepping outside your comfort zone by going to a strange and unfamiliar destination is an experience unlike any other, and one that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime.

Ana Parfenova is a fourth-year Political Science and English student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her love of writing, travel, and learning about different cultures led her to become a Public Relations Coordinator for AIESEC UBC.

Why culture shock is good for you

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What is culture shock?

Commonly experienced by travelers, expats and exchange students, “culture shock" describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to an unfamiliar one.

It’s the surprise of a new environment, with new people and a new way of life.

It also includes the initial separation anxieties that occur when you’re taken out of close contact with the important people in your life. That could be partners, friends, family, colleagues or teachers – all the people who you would seek advice from in terms of uncertainty.

These are some common elements that contribute to feelings of culture shock:

Whether it’s moving from a perpetually wet and grey climate to an arid, overbearingly hot region or vice versa, the weather can make it that little bit more difficult to settle in if it’s something you’re not used to.

It might be cooked differently, might seem bland, or even heavy compared to what you are used to. If you are unused to cooking, you may find yourself relying on “fast” food instead of your usual diet. Try to find a supplier of familiar food, and stick to a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Being surrounded by a foreign language can be overwhelming to begin with, causing no undue amount of mental fatigue as you listen to and speak with others. And then there’s the inevitable shock of discovering the limits of basic language lessons as you encounter regional accents and fast-talkers.

Although some cultural differences may be obvious, e.g. food, dress and behavior, you may come to notice that other cultures have very different outlooks on the world from your own. This means that you might find that people don’t share some of your core values and beliefs.

If you travel from a warm climate to a cold one, it might seem like a lot of effort and be uncomfortable to wear heavy winter clothing. Some cultures may also have prohibitions on certain types of attire.

Every culture has its unspoken rules that govern how people interact with and treat one another. Initially these can seem like a minefield of manners as you inevitably fall foul of them, and the effect may be a little disorienting.

All of the above can all contribute to culture shock. And if you’re tired and jet-lagged when you arrive, small things can feel blown out of proportion and become a seemingly insurmountable barrier to enjoying your time abroad.

Shock to the system

It’s important to remember that culture shock is entirely normal, usually unavoidable and doesn’t reflect badly on you.

We might think of culture shock as a purely social phenomenon, but it can have real, physiological symptoms: -

  • Low mood
  • Headaches or stomachaches
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Inability to focus

Fortunately a great deal of ink has been spent on discussing the effects of culture shock. What the vast majority of these studies agree on is that there are 6 distinct phases of culture shock:

A typical reaction is to only associate with other expats from your home country – existing in a cocoon, avoiding all but chance encounters with the locals.

It’s important to keep all of these stages in perspective and take them for what they are – a chance to learn about yourself, your strengths and weakness, and the world at large.

It will impart valuable skills that are germane to almost any future endeavors, whether personal or professional, and is arguably the main benefit of spending meaningful time abroad.

Broadening horizons

Despite those initial feelings of bewilderment, culture shock is a vital part of developing as a human being.

As the Romantic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau puts it: ‘To become informed, it is not sufficient to roam through various countries. It is necessary to know how to travel.’

Travelling the world is all well and good, but if you stick to satellite groups of your fellow expats or the sanitized version of a culture peddled by tour guides and travel agents, then it’s really something of a meaningless experience.

If you don’t interact with other cultures, you’re at risk of assuming your own cultural values make up reality – and are therefore ‘correct’.

You’ll only recognize the incorrect assumptions you might be making if you immerse yourself in a culture that runs on different values to those you’re familiar with. In short, culture shock is as important for learning about yourself and your own culture as it is for fostering understanding between different peoples.

Getting over a rough landing

The early stages of culture shock can be tough to get through, but fortunately they’re temporary and manageable. Here are some tips on how to stop it affecting your life abroad.

While it’s tempting to stay within your comfort zone, exposing yourself to new cultures and ways of seeing the world is vital for personal growth.


Neiman, S. (2014). Why Grow Up? London: Penguin.

Queens University Belfast. (2015). Culture shock and living in Northern Ireland.

Santayana, G. (1995). ‘The Philosophy of Travel’, in The Birth of Reason and Other Essays. New York: Columbia University Press.

What exactly is cultural etiquette, anyway?

Cultural etiquette is what you call the codes of behavior that rule different cultures – in other words, what's acceptable and what isn't in a society. Its kin, culture shock, is what travelers experience when faced with irreconcilable cultural differences. (And its slightly more distant cousin, reverse culture shock, is what you experience when you return home after having spent significant time abroad.)

Simply put, good etiquette is basically good manners in the place you're visiting – the act of aligning yourself with the culture and tradition of a place.

That doesn't mean we should always abide by foreign social manners, some traditions can be degrading or harmful and should be avoided. But mostly, cultural etiquette is about fitting in, which demonstrates interest in and respect for a foreign culture.

Cultural etiquette may deal with serious issues, such as gender inequality or stereotypes , or with simpler everyday situations, whose rules may leave you perplexed.

  • every person walking into a room shakes hands with every other person (Colombia) or kisses everyone (Spain)
  • strangers call you by your first name in business settings, even if they've never met you before (South Africa)
  • people think you were rude for pointing at someone with your finger (almost everywhere)
  • you're invited to a sauna but first asked to take all your clothes off – in front of men and women you've never met before (Finland)
  • people stare if you cut your salad with a knife (Switzerland and France).

See how easy one could offend or be offended?

The most mundane customs and habits can be surprising.

Walk into an elevator in France and everyone says hello. In some countries, admiring something even casually means the owner feels obliged to give it to you. Americans are at ease talking about money - most others aren't. And the list goes on.

A beautiful, endearing kiss or public affection in Paris won't be culturally acceptable in many other parts of the world

Watch the video: Top 5 Culture Shock I Experienced After Escaping from North Korea

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