Managing Culture Shock

What is culture shock?

Culture shock is something that everyone goes through when they study abroad. It is a period of individual cultural reorientation when a person lives for an extended period of time in a different culture and is separated from their familiar cultural patterns and cues. Although it might feel insurmountable when you experience it, you will get through it; everyone does.

When you return home you may also experience another period of Reverse Culture Shock.

The Stages of Culture Shock

  1. Honeymoon Phase
    You arrive in your host country and think, “This is great! Everything is new and exciting and I love it here!” You’re having tours of the city, you’re meeting new people, getting to understand the language more easily; everything is going really well and you’re so glad you decided to study abroad.
  2. Hostile Phase
    You’ve been there for a while and all of a sudden you feel like, “This is the worst! Everything is new and different and I hate it here!” The food is unhealthy and not varied, it takes forever to get anything done, you can’t talk to your parents as much as you like… You’re starting to wonder why you ever decided to study abroad in the first place.
  3. Understanding/Sense of Humor Phase
    Things start to be OK again. As you get to be more familiar with the culture and lifestyle, you start to appreciate it more and get more comfortable. You are able to laugh at the misunderstandings that once made you so angry.
  4. Integration Phase
    You learn to accept the good and bad aspects of the host culture and you incorporate them into your own life. It becomes part of your lifestyle; you like the distinct cultural aspects of your host country and feel comfortable and happy. This phase will last for the rest of your time abroad.

Managing Culture Shock

  • Talk to a Spanish Studies site staff member. They are always available to help you get through any difficult moment you may experience while abroad.
  • Become involved in the local culture. Find out about the current events of your host country, take advantage of opportunities to interact with locals, become involved with a community activity, attend events that are not typically for tourists, etc. If you demonstrate an interest in learning about all aspects of the culture, the entire community will become your teacher and you will become a part of that community in the process.
  • Keep an open mind. Food, religion, thought patterns, and social habits will seem strange, but allow yourself to be open to not only understand them, but to participate and try new things.
  • Spend time reflecting on your daily encounters in order to deepen your understanding of your experiences and host culture. A journal is a good way to do this.
  • Communicate with your hosts to develop a positive relationship. Be courteous, respectful, and aware of cultural differences and taboos.
  • Practice your Spanish. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, because they are a great way to learn and can be funny, too!
  • Seek out new experiences. Eat at local restaurants or pubs instead of American restaurants. Limit the time you spend with other Americans and English speakers. Avoid locations heavily visited by tourists.
  • Discourage yourself from negatively comparing your host country to the US. Things will be different, which is why you came! Instead of looking at these new environments, customs, and behaviors with criticism, try to understand what makes your host country tick. Remember, it is not good, it is not bad, it is just different.
  • Above all, have fun! This is the experience of a lifetime. You are not a tourist, but a participant in a global encounter with the amazing opportunity to learn about another culture, another way of life, and another person on the other side of the world.

*List adapted from Kramb, Joanne. "Tips for Cultural Integration." Crosscultural Resources. Jan. 2002. George Washington University. 15 Aug. 2007 .