One of the most rewarding aspects of going abroad are the cultural exchanges with people from your host country and culture. During the first few weeks of your study abroad experience you may find that using a different language, figuring out the local bus or subway, and meeting students from the host country takes some effort. Culture shock is part of the process of finding your way and figuring out how to navigate in this new environment.

Culture Shock 101

Culture shock is something that everyone encounters when in a new environment. It can be experienced when starting a new job, getting involved with a new group or organization, as well as during a study abroad program.

Culture shock can be compared to when you first arrived on your college campus. The environment was new, the people were new, and you weren’t really aware of the Wheaton campus “culture.” The values, norms, and expectations were not clear to you in the beginning. The campus may feel like home to you now, but before you arrived you were dealing with feelings of anxiety, and insecurity.

During a study abroad program, you may or may not experience culture shock. Below you will find the descriptions of the various phases you may experience as well as tips on how to deal with culture shock.

Honeymoon phase

During the honeymoon phase you are experiencing your new host culture on a surface level. You take part in visiting museums, historical sites, and are just excited to be in this new part of the world. Since you don’t yet have a deeper understanding of the culture, your understanding at this stage is only one of a tourist.

Culture shock phase

This phase occurs any where from the first few weeks to several months. Culture shock happens when you begin to delve deeper into the norms and values of a culture and notice the differences. This experience can often prove frustrating and confusing as you understand that not all cultures view the world from the same lens as you.

During this phase it is really important to keep in mind your goals for taking on this experience in the first place. Students should try to reach out to other students, visit local sites, and find ways to gain a deeper appreciation for their new home. It should be said that culture shock is not an easy process and the overall process differs from person to person.

Dealing with culture shock in-country
  • Get out and see your new surroundings (visit museums, parks, major sites)
  • Meet new people on your program and at your university; the more people you meet from the country, the more you can master the language and culture.
  • Get involved in student clubs and events
  • Keep a journal of your feelings and observations. (This is a great way to document all the things you did while studying abroad.)
  • Stay in touch with friends and family at Wheaton and at home.
  • Remember your goals. (Remember all the reasons you decided to explore study abroad! It is all worth it!)
  • Laugh at yourself: a sense of humor will help alleviate stressful situations.
Recovery phase

During the recovery phase you begin to get more accustomed to the host culture. You have begun to use the language, understand the values and norms in the culture, and have found an objective way of accepting differing perspectives. The recovery phase is a gradual change that happens over several weeks or months.

Adaptation phase

The adaptation phase is when you have immersed yourself in the culture and now have merged your beliefs and values with that of the host culture. You have changed in a variety of ways, but are still the same in others. One of the true tests of adaptation is when people begin to ask you for directions. Adaptation means that you have made meaningful connections and will find leaving this environment as difficult as it was to leave Wheaton College.