Monday, June 2, 2008

Avoiding Culture Shock

As an exchange student going through the pre-departure orientation, the biggest topic seemed to be how to manage culture shock. I took all of the info provided very seriously and even measured my own emotions against the bell curve/roller coaster ride (see the curve) we were expected to experience while living in our host countries.

I'm not saying that culture shock doesn't exist, I'm just saying I don't think it affects everyone. I never experienced culture shock during my year abroad in Monterrey, Mexico. Wait, wait. I already know what you are going to say. "Monterrey is only 3 hours from the US border", "Monterrey is a very Americanized city". Both statements are very true and I will add that I was very disappointed when I realized it. I chose to study there because it was the first place I looked at and because of its prestige in the Latin American business world. However, I wouldn't change any of my experiences and I would study or relocate for a job there again if I had the chance (Want to give me the chance?).

My opinion about culture shock is that it is simply an effect of one's rejection of the customs and culture. Although Monterrey (Mty) is very Americanized, there are still obvious strongholds of Mexican culture; food, holidays, punctuality and traffic just to name a few. I did a little bit of observational research while in Mexico and I found that the visiting students that experienced "culture shock" were the ones that couldn't wait to go back home, didn't want to taste this, couldn't believe those people just did that. It was a true shock to them. Myself on the other hand, I never wanted the experience to end, tried every food I could get my hands on and simply accepted the actions of the people as "just the way it was."

Studying abroad was the greatest experience of my college career. If you are considering student exchange, here are my five tips to avoid culture shock:

Do some research before you go

Even if it is a Google, Wikipedia or Youtube search, check out the country and city you are going to live in. Any knowledge of the area will lessen the shock especially if local customs are drastically different from your own

Treat everyday as a lesson

For me, my goal was fluency in Spanish. In other words, the troubles I had with the language in the beginning were not setbacks, just lessons. I got frustrated at times, but because I was there to learn the language, I didn't allow myself to reject it. This made the problems with translation easier to bear since I knew they were obstacles I had to overcome in order to reach my goal. I recommend hopping a bus, train or taxi to some part of your host city, then try and find your way back. This is a great way to find new places and people, and definitely an awesome way to practice the language.


If you are invited to go somewhere, GO!! This is a cool way to immerse yourself. There is also less stress on you if you get out there and take part in a traditional festival or dance. If you mess up there are nor worries; you are a guest and it is already understood that you don't know what you are doing.

Observe, don't judge

If you see something happening that you know is a little different than how your cultral would do, just appreciate it. You are going to see things that make you say "WOW!". Just take it all in. This will help avoid the shock and will also make you very aware of your own culture.

Be a sponge, not a brick

A little elementary but helpful. As you are seeing all these new things, people and places, soak it all up. Take advantage of every second. As for the language, read every sign, ad, book, magazine and speak to every person you can. You will be amazed at how much you will learn by reading and practicing outside the classroom.

Being a brick will cause you to reject a lot of info and will lead to culture shock.

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