Participating in a study abroad program or moving to a foreign country are both exciting ways to experience a new region of the world. The opportunity to immerse yourself in the traditions, foods, and cultural practices of other countries for an extended period of time is something that many people dream of. Having the Swiss Alps, Tuscan vineyards, or Taj Mahal in your backyard is an enticing thought and easy to romanticize. However, many people who live in a foreign country for a while are at risk of experiencing culture shock. But this does not necessarily mean that it is a bad thing, or that it has detrimental effects. In fact, there are many benefits to your everyday life that you can reap from experiencing the shock of a new culture.
What is Culture Shock?
Anyone who has traveled to a foreign country has probably experienced at least a mild case of culture shock, especially if the area you visit is fairly diverse from where you live. Those who study abroad or move to a different country for a long period of time are more likely to experience very strong feelings of shock due to the drastic departure from their familiar everyday life.
So what is culture shock? This experience is best described as a feeling of disorientation caused by exposure to attitudes, beliefs, and the daily life in an unfamiliar culture. This can be encountered through going somewhere where everyone speaks a different language, body language and gestures are interpreted differently, or women have fewer freedoms than men. Adjusting to these new cultural norms can be a struggle and feel overwhelming as you attempt to overcome what you know to be true in order to embrace and assimilate into a new culture.
While it may sound difficult and terrible, this shock can be overcome. Even more important, it can benefit you in many different ways. Here are 6 ways that disorientation to a new culture can positively impact your life.
It Expands Your Worldview
As human beings, we tend to want to stay where we are comfortable, with the people and places that we comfortably know. It is easy to understand and trust those who live the same way, speak the same language, and practice the same cultural values as we do. It can be intimidating to travel to, let alone live, in a country with a culture that is vastly different from the one that you know very well. The cultural shock that you experience in these circumstances can feel overwhelming and insurmountable, and it may make you feel like it’s not worth pushing through.
However, spending time in foreign countries and experiencing different cultures is a very important part of becoming a well-rounded and open-minded individual. As you see people living differently from you and begin to understand the reasoning and methods behind their cultural practices, you see everything you experience through a new lens. Immersing yourself in a different country and culture will help you become a more empathetic, understanding, and accepting person of all people you come in contact with.
It Helps You Become More of a Risk Taker
When you first make the decision to move to a new country, it seems so thrilling and logical. There might be a job opportunity you don’t want to pass up, historical sites and architecture you just have to be surrounded by, or cultural traditions that you want to truly be a part of. As you do your research and possibly even visit, it all feels so exciting and adventurous. Once you get there, though, the shock of the culture shift might set in and make you wonder what in the world you were thinking.
These actions, though, are the hallmarks of someone comfortable with taking appropriate and calculated risks. The decision to leave a life that you know well to move somewhere that is brand new and so different from your typical daily experiences is scary, but also important for your overall happiness and satisfaction. The ability to push past the struggles of adjusting to a new culture and overcoming homesickness and a longing for something familiar and easily understood is an amazing character trait that not everyone possesses. Going through the shock of a cultural upheaval only increases your ability to take smart risks in order to reap the reward of an amazing life experience for sticking it out.
It Allows You to Develop More Self-Confidence
Moving to a new country, especially if you go alone, can be a very overwhelming and intimidating experience. In addition to likely not knowing anyone there, you may also be very far from your family and the life that you knew. This kind of a situation can ramp up your anxiety and make you feel incredibly homesick, especially when you don’t have the same creature comforts and familiar places and people that you are used to. Even for the most sociable and outgoing person, immersing yourself in a foreign cultural community can be daunting and intimidating.
While it may at times feel like you won’t ever settle in to this strange new place, you will. In the process, you will also gain more self-confidence to boot. Going through an experience like cultural shock tests what you know about yourself and your ability to persevere. With each new hurdle you conquer in your new environment, whether it’s ordering in a restaurant in the native language, cooking a traditional cultural food, or just navigating the roadways and public transportation, your pride and confidence in yourself will grow by leaps and bounds. You will prove to yourself over and over everyday that you are strong and able to overcome temporary struggles for the greater good of your new life in your new country, and you will carry that confidence with you into future endeavors.
It Increases Your Ability to Adapt
When you move to a new country, it can take time for you to adjust to the new way of life in that culture. The people in your new homeland might dress differently, speak a language that is foreign to you, and have behaviors, mannerisms and social rules that are unfamiliar for you. The environment might also feel very difficult to understand, especially if the daily structure is different and the roadways operate differently. It can feel very isolating to be in a place where you don’t understand the written and unspoken rules and ways of life of the culture and community.
When you are suddenly immersed in a new culture, you learn to adjust to your new surroundings and the community rules very quickly. In order to survive in your new environment and to begin to acquire an understanding of the rules and language, you need to be flexible and observant. As you watch how others speak, behave and interact, you will be able to imitate and reprogram what is normal and natural for you. Your ability to adapt quickly to this situation will help you be more flexible and open-minded in all new situations that you encounter.
It Speeds Up Your Language Acquisition
One of the best and fastest ways to learn a new language is through immersion. While you certainly can learn and use key words and phrases when learned in isolated situations, such as through a class or online application, you will truly internalize it best when learning it in context. This is the best way to pick up on slang, different uses of the same words, and the way that native speakers use the language both formally and casually.
The cultural shock of moving to a new place where you can’t understand what people are saying is very overwhelming. It can be isolating to be on the outside of a language that everyone else seems to speak and understand fluently. However, remember that there is a benefit to being thrown into such a circumstance. You will begin to pick up on common words and phrases and learn both the meanings and pronunciations of the native language much faster than if you were slowly introduced to the culture.
It Strengthens Your Intuition
In familiar places, we are able to develop an internal sense of things that make us feel comfortable and things that make us feel uncertain. We know what kinds of behaviors and environmental scenes are common in the locations that we live and frequent, and eventually develop an intuition for when something appears to be just right or it feels a bit off. We can use this intuition to avoid danger, harm, or annoyances.
When you go through culture shock, your mind and body can feel like they are in a heightened state at all times and you have to adjust quickly. In your new country and culture, you will need to develop a sixth sense about your unfamiliar environment in order to keep yourself safe from people and situations that can take advantage of you. You’ll want to quickly learn the behaviors that are indicative of routine and friendly exchanges to hone your intuition for when something feels wrong or a little off. Going through this experience will help you to assess your surroundings and listen to your gut anywhere else you travel.
The experience of living and working abroad can lead to all of these benefits and help to develop a strong sense of self. The positive aspects of shock to a new culture can make you a better friend, employee, partner and human being. If you are ready to experience life abroad, apply to our Healthcare Internship Program today.