How To Avoid Culture Shock When You Study Abroad

How To Avoid Culture Shock When You Study Abroad

Studying abroad will be the best experience of your life, if you'll let it!


Studying abroad is probably the pinnacle of any college experience. But what many take for granted is just how shocking it can be to be thrown headfirst into a brand new culture. Their customs, traditions, foods and even language can all be roadblocks that impact anyone's time abroad.

But, there are measures that you can take to ensure that you aren't spending your precious time overseas struggling to adapt.

1. The first and most important thing to remember is that your culture isn't necessarily "right" in every aspect.

Just because your host country is different doesn't mean it's "wrong." In fact, no country can be right or wrong. So don't let yourself begin your experience by judging every difference because you'll quickly exhaust yourself and start your trip on the wrong foot. Instead, take in every change for what it is: a symptom of the adventure you bravely undertook.

2. If you take your trip as a tourist, you'll only see your study abroad through the rose-colored glasses of America.

Every country with a market in tourism "Disney-fies" the country to be more appealing to its visitors. But when we stick to what we know, or even the neighbor of familiarity, we'll stick to the tendency to compare their culture to ours. By focusing on the travel agent's top 10 sites and visiting only to spend hours fighting selfie sticks and street vendors selling the same plastic trinkets at every block, you'll truly miss out on some of the authenticity that makes your extended travels so important.

What's more, by seeing everything as American-adjacent, you'll find yourself missing your home country even more. It's those "close but no cigar" moments that will make it harder to be away from what you know. So, by all means, take in the tourist sites, but don't forget to explore more of the underground or native go-to hangouts. When you stop searching for what you know, you can take in the world around you.

3. Live in the moment.

I'm guilty of this too. Many times, I'm caught up in trying to take the perfect Instagram picture that I don't really look at the world around me. I want to show off where I am without exactly knowing where I am. Be sure to get your pictures (those will be memories you will keep forever), but also take a time to put the cameras away and live!

4. Find your routine.

Even on a vacation of sorts, it's good to find a sense of normalcy so that it doesn't get too overwhelming. Whether you're taking classes, interning, both or neither, it's important to find some daily comfort. Maybe it's a coffee shop down the block, maybe it's your morning commute and the playlist you listen to on the way, maybe it's a unique store that you like to shop at. Whatever it is, make your own home away from home. Once you have your home base, you'll then be able to venture further out of your comfort zone and experience the world around you.

5. Most important of all, enjoy yourself!

Remember every detail! Take advantage of every opportunity! Have fun! These will be the stories you'll tell your family, friends, kids and grandkids years from now! So make it count!

Popular Right Now

I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.

After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing. My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from Shameless.

Shameless is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out-of-place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside, Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum -- it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone -- however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by Shameless.

Cover Image Credit:

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating
Facebook Comments