Study Abroad

Cultural Adjustment

We hope that your encounter with another culture will provide you with a set of perspectives different from your own, and a glimpse into the ways in which other people see and live in the world.  While living in a foreign country for an extended period of time, you may experience stress induced by the change in environment.  It is normal to feel overwhelmed and frustrated sometimes while abroad.

Emily Strom - Istanbul, Turkey (UW CHID Greece Program)Every student brings their own unique set of experiences and perspectives to foreign study, so there can be no blanket description of the cultural adjustment that you will go through.  One thing is sure: you will experience both highs and lows as you progress through your study abroad experience.  The smart traveler expects these and makes a plan to manage them while abroad using the strategies and resources available to her or him.

We hope that you will take some time before you travel to learn more about the culture of your destination in anticipation of the cultural adjustments that you will undergo.  The more that you know, the easier and more valuable the experience of adjusting to a new culture will be.  As always, we encourage you to visit with a study abroad adviser if you have questions.

Here are some great resources for country-specific information and cultural competency:

  • The U.S. State Department’s country-specific information for each country in the world is quite comprehensive.  It covers various issues including the health conditions, crime, currency, entry requirements, areas of instability, as well as the location of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country.
  • Ediplomat is a website that offers a guide for politeness and etiquette around the world.  While you may not find the country of your specific program, you can find a lot of information regarding social situations – from how to meet and greet to body language.
  • If you’re looking for specific information about local dress, Condé Nast publishes an International Dress Code that you may find helpful.
  • What’s Up With Culture is an online program that includes materials adapted from the Peace Corps training manual and is designed to assist students as they reflect on their experiences, understand their reactions to cultural differences, and work through the many adjustments they will make before, during, and after their study abroad experience.

Further reading:

  • Hess, J D. The Whole World Guide to Culture Learning. Yarmouth, Me: Intercultural Press, 1994. Print.
  • Hess, J D, and J D. Hess. Studying Abroad/learning Abroad: An Abridged Edition of the Whole World Guide to Culture Learning. Yarmouth, Me., USA: Intercultural Press, 1997. Print.
  • Laubscher, Michael R. Encounters with Difference: Student Perceptions of the Role of Out-of-Class Experiences in Education Abroad. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1994. Print.
  • Paige, R M. Maximizing Study Abroad: A Students’ Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use. Minneapolis, Minn: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota, 2009. Print.
  • Wagner, Kenneth, and Tony Magistrale. Writing Across Culture: An Introduction to Study Abroad and the Writing Process. New York: P. Lang, 1995. Print.
  • Ward, Colleen A, Stephen Bochner, and Adrian Furnham. The Psychology of Culture Shock. Hove [England: Routledge, 2001. Print.