Normalizing Culture Shock

Do you fear leaving the comfort of your home, the familiarity of your community, and the people you love and care for?  You are not alone!  Everyone has the fear of change and adjusting to new environments; it is just to different extents.  The same is true for students, who choose to study, intern, teach, serve, or do research abroad.  These students are in for an exciting and new adventure that is sure to shape their lives forever, but they may also experience a phenomenon known as culture shock.


Culture shock is defined as “an inescapable consequence of culture contact, particularly when a significant distance separates the sojourners’ culture of origin and the culture of the visited country or culture.”  (

There are many stages of culture shock, and it may even hit when you return home–a phenomenon known as reverse culture shock.  The stages are as follows:

Honeymoon Phase: Everything is new and exciting and the promise of the future time abroad is extremely positive.

Crisis Phase: Differences become apparent and irritating.  Problems occur and frustration sets in.

Adjustment Phase: You are able to accept and embrace cultural differences.  You don’t want to leave and new friends.

Honeymoon at home: You are excited to come home and see friends and family and be back in a familiar setting.

Crisis at Home: As you adjust to life at home you find that things become normal and routine again and you yearn to be back abroad.

Adjustment at Home: You incorporate what you learned into your life and career and reap the many positive benefits that education abroad has in life!

To an outsider, culture shock may seem like and sound like a negative phrase, but it is actually not always a bad thing.  Yes, adjusting to a new culture has its ups and downs emotionally and students may feel the sensation of sensory overload and feel overwhelmed and stressed, but those feelings can actually help stimulate intercultural growth. How? Well let’s take a look into a few positive outcomes from experiencing culture shock:

  • Experiencing culture shock will teach you how to survive during periods of unfamiliarity and will aid in personal growth when you are facing vulnerability
  • Moments of being uncomfortable can help shape you into a stronger person and help you figure out your true capabilities
  • You will learn invaluable intercultural communication skills when you find yourself face to face with a language you do not know (or if you do know the language you may find yourself mastering it quicker than expected!)
  • Experiencing culture shock will teach you that this world is a big place with many differences, but that we are all similar and interconnected in some ways
  • It will let you leave your comfort zone and embark on a new journey towards a better you


Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from walking up to bat.  Going abroad for your education may be a scary feat to face and you may not be comfortable in your new host country at first, but I promise that you will become a new person from facing the unfamiliar.  Do something today that your future self will thank you for, spend time abroad and experience the unfamiliar.  You will be forever grateful for the experience.


Courtney Smith is a senior at Transylvania University studying Psychology.  She participated in a Semester at Sea Program and the KIIS Poland Consortia program.