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Post-Graduate Travel

How to travel smartly, safely, ethically, and independently after college.

Culture Shock

Even the most avid and open-minded travelers will sometimes find themselves frustrated by their new surroundings. They might feel overwhelmed from learning a new language and new customs, peeved by the host country's cultural and social norms, or annoyed by their interactions with locals. Or, they might just be homesick and moody, not realizing that it is preventing them from enjoying their trip. These are all examples of culture shock, and it can happen to anyone — from a recent graduate on their first vacation overseas to a seasoned long-term traveler. Here are some sources with information about the different stages of culture shock, how to deal with it, and why it may even be a good thing. 

For those asking, What is Culture Shock?, this is a condensed yet comprehensive guide from the Center for International Programs at Kalamazoo College. It describes the different phases of culture shock and how they can affect people in different ways, and provides some coping strategies, including how to respond to stress and how to transition from an ethnocentric to an ethnorelative perspective.  

Kalervo Oberg coined the term "culture shock" in the 1950s to describe the feelings of anxiety and frustration that overcome travelers when they are confronted by new, unfamiliar social cues. This transcript of one of his speeches is a deeper look into the the four stages and physical symptoms of culture shock, the concept of culture, and how travelers learn, unlearn, and adapt to cultures. 

The Fulbright Program's guide to culture shock and adjustment explains the differences between visible and invisible culture, visualizes the up and down phases of the "roller coaster" that is culture shock, and provides resources for country profiles so that travelers can get a head start on learning about their new host culture.  

Roobens, a Parisian native, writes about his travels and culture shock moments in his blog, Been Around the Globe. Check it out for a young black person's perspective and advice on what to do when culture shock comes with racist and threatening overtones. 

Alex Reynolds' blog, Caught Between Worlds, documents her travels as a young Filipina-American woman. This post is about handling culture shock as she moves between countries with different sexual, religious, and racial norms. It also has some tips for reverse culture shock. 

Curious about the psychological symptoms of culture shock? In this interview, Pascal Wallisch — neuroscientist, NYU psychology professor, and immigrant — offers his unique take on culture shock, how travelers can mentally prepare for it, and some of its positive effects. 

In the video below, Kristofer Gilmour explains that culture shock hits when travelers try to recreate patterns from home in an attempt to avoid difficult interactions, and when they internalize loneliness to the point of forgetting why they embarked on a journey in the first place. He recommends that travelers confront new cultures through participation and exposure.

Returning "Home": Reverse Culture Shock

Travelers returning home after an extended time abroad may be surprised to experience reverse culture shock, also known as re-entry shock. All of a sudden, their old routines in their native country feel unfamiliar and they might be negatively comparing their native country to a host country they became attached to during their travels. They might have trouble adjusting to changes that happened while they were away, or they might be processing how much they have changed as a result of their travels. These resources have more information about reverse culture shock and how to get through it. 

Reverse Culture Shock: what it is, what the symptoms are, how to prepare for it, and how to cope. This two-page guide has the basics about what to expect at each phase of reverse culture shock and quick, practical tips to help travelers make the most out of this disorienting experience. 

Kristi Fuoco is a Canadian who lived and worked in Germany for 18 months. She wrote about her return to Canada for the Vancouver Sun twice: three weeks after coming home, about the initial shock of feeling like a foreigner in her primary culture, and seven months after her first piece, to reflect about what she learned and what is still a challenge. 

Managing Reverse Culture Shock: Unexpectedly down about finally being home? Feeling different and out of place? Family and friends not interested in travel stories? Missing the excitement of being abroad? Roobens, the blogger mentioned above, shares how he gets through it. 

Frances Carruthers writes about her reverse culture shock experience for The Guardian. She and others talk about feeling detached after returning home and what they did to regain their sense of normalcy. 

Author and travel writer Pico Iyer is of Indian descent, was born and raised in England, lives and raises his kids in the United States, and spends most of his time in Japan, his wife's native country. How do we define home when we feel connected to many different places at once? How do we find relief in the bustle of modern, transnational, cross-country life? These are some of the questions Iyer explores in his TED Talk.