Cultures That Shock

Culture shock is “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes” (Oxford University Press). Whether you’ve attended your pre-departure meeting with the Study Abroad Office, watched a few episodes of Rick Steves’ PBS documentary, or have seen that episode of Spongebob with said title, you’ve heard of culture shock.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to avoiding culture shock while abroad: don’t assimilate. Do everything you would normally do in your home country. Eat at your familiar times, go to sleep at familiar times, only speak your native language, don’t leave your bedroom for anything but school. If you don’t experience the culture, you can’t be shocked by it.

Doesn’t sound like fun, does it?

The whole motivation behind study abroad is to get some international experience of a different culture (and possibly another language) with the support from your university. Or at least, for me, I was itching to get back to a country I fell in love with years ago without setting back my graduation plans. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this view. Two of my flatmates are American girls from the same state and same university. I was excited to talk to them about their experiences in Madrid and how they like the country so far. After just a week, I began to seriously doubt this would happen. They spent all of their time together in their rooms, watching American TV shows, listening to American music, and eating American food. Not even homemade food, they were bringing Burger King and McDonald’s bags back to the apartment at least twice a week. I was disheartened to say the least.

Now, I’m not saying it’s not okay to be homesick. On the contrary. I’m guilty of grabbing a McFlurry every once in awhile or listening to my favorite Spotify playlist. I’ll Facetime friends from home and we’ll watch an episode of The Office or YouTube videos over Skype together. It’s normal to miss home and the environment you’re familiar with. My point is, it’s not okay to isolate yourself from the new country you’re living in. You’re only missing out on once in a lifetime opportunities to explore yourself and the world around you.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve studied abroad, are planning to study abroad, or are curious to know what being abroad as a student in college is like. No matter your purposes, I hope these words register with you. Study abroad is an experience. You could take those classes or that internship at any other time at your home university. But having the opportunity to continue your education and fully immerse yourself in a different lifestyle is invaluable in your personal growth.

It only hurts you to shield yourself from culture shock. Embrace the uncomfortable, make yourself vulnerable, and do things that scare you. It’s the only way to guarantee that you took complete advantage of your time abroad.

Staircase on a trail that I found while exploring inside La Alhambra in Granada, Spain

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