Culture Shock

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When travelling overseas, everyone experiences the ups and downs of cultural adjustment or Culture Shock. The team at CISaustralia aims to minimise culture shock by setting realistic expectations for students participating in CISaustralia programs. We place great importance on preparing students for their overseas program through a variety of pre-departure materials including personal pre-departure phone calls and/or webinars, pre-departure guides, counselling, etc.

When preparing to travel overseas the best thing you can do is expect it to be different. You may end up comparing everything with how it’s done “back home” as you go through stages of loving a new culture, and you may have difficulty accepting why things are done differently than what you are used to. More serious troubles might include bouts of depression and doubt.

This is a normal process, especially when you are in a foreign country for an extended period of time. Try to remain open; be an observer and learn to appreciate the differences. Talk to your friends about differences and try to understand these differences and the culture more generally.

The study, intern or volunteer program you’ve chosen may take place in a country where English is the second or third language spoken. Therefore, it is helpful to learn some basic conversational phrases. This communicates respect for the culture and an effort to integrate into the local community.

Experts have suggested that there are four stages of culture shock:

  • Initial euphoria
  • Irritability and hostility
  • Gradual adjustment
  • Adaptation

Almost everyone experiences culture shock to some degree – large or small. It can be frustrating and confusing but there are positive steps that you can take to minimise the impact of culture shock:

  • Realise that this is normal and that you will live through it
  • Be open-minded and ready to learn. Realise that there are different ways to do things and readjust to think in terms of “different” – not “better” or “worse”
  • Research the new culture. You can begin today by reading as much as you can about the culture that you will be experiencing
  • Look for logical reasons for behaviours in the new culture that you may find strange. With a little analysis, you may find that these differences don’t seem so strange after all
  • Above all, flexibility, humour, humility and open-mindedness will be your most valuable traits

Reverse Culture Shock

While Culture Shock is well-known and anticipated prior to travel, Reverse Culture Shock is not as recognised or expected amongst most travellers, especially if it is your first time re-entering your home country. The team at CISaustralia places great importance on preparing students for their re-entry to Australia after participating in a program overseas.

Students may experience some trouble readjusting back to “regular” life. Everyone experiences Reverse Culture Shock to some extent. As with Culture Shock, the best way to combat it is to be prepared and ready to experience it in some way. Some symptoms include:

  • Boredom
  • The feeling that no one wants to listen to stories of your travels
  • Having a difficult time listening to stories told about what happened while you were away
  • Reverse homesickness / missing being abroad
  • Realising that you have changed while your friends and family at home have not
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Inability to apply new skills and knowledge
  • Depression

While Reverse Culture Shock is a personal experience that varies from person to person, some things that may help are:

  • Accepting that you will see things from a different perspective
  • Keeping in touch with both friends you have made abroad and your friends at home. Try not to ignore one for the other
  • Sharing your experiences, whether that be by chatting with friends or posting online
  • Befriend international students at your Uni or volunteer at local learning centres for international students
  • Try to maintain new habits you may have formed while overseas
  • Looking forward. What are you planning to do next? More study? Looking into a new job? Travel domestically? Travel abroad? The future is yours to take!

More information and advice on identifying and easing Reverse Culture Shock can be found at the following:


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