You may have heard these words -- Culture Shock -- already and possibly
within a negative context. Conflict in our lives, however, does not
have to be negative or incapacitating. It can be used as a source of
motivation, introspection, and change. Keep this in mind as you read
Symptoms of culture shock
Culture shock is defined as a psychological disorientation that most
people experience when living in a culture markedly different from one’s
own. Culture shock occurs when our "...cultural clues, the signs
and symbols which guide social interaction, are stripped away. ...A
difficult part of this process for adults is the experience of feeling
like children again, of not knowing instinctively the ‘right’
thing to do." (Piet-Pelon & Hornby, 1992, p.2).
- Excessive sleep
- Compulsive eating/drinking
- Stereotyping host nationals
- Hostility towards host nationals
culture shock in different ways, at different times and to different
degrees. Since you will be spending a lot of your time with other Americans,
the culture shock you should expect would be minimal compared to someone
who is going to live with a Swiss host family and attend a Swiss university
without any other Americans around.
the cultural adjustment process follows a certain pattern. At first,
you will be excited about going to Europe and starting a new adventure.
When you first arrive, everything will appear new and exciting. However,
after some time, you may start to feel homesick and question why the
Swiss (or Italians or French) do things differently than Americans do.
You may even become irritated with these differences. However, you will
eventually get used to this new way of life. And before you know it,
you will be getting excited about the return home to your family and
An orientation will be provided for you upon arrival to the Center.
This orientation will include information regarding culture shock and
how to cope with it. In addition, the Student Affairs Coordinator is
available to assist students with the cultural adjustment process.
Hopefully, while you are in Europe, you will take the time
to talk with some of the locals. Even though you may find that many
people speak English, patterns of communication often differ. Be patient
and listen to the meaning, not the words. Remember that body language
(such as gestures, facial expressions, body motions, eye contact and
voice inflections) convey meaning in communication, as well. Be aware
and pay attention.
People from different cultures have
different values. You may find your own values questioned, just as you
are questioning those of the Swiss (or Italians, Germans, French, Hungarians,
etc.). For example, a visitor from India to the US observed: "Americans
seem to be in a perpetual hurry. Just watch the way they walk down the
street. They never allow themselves the leisure to enjoy life; there
are too many things to do." Do you think this observation is accurate
or just? How would you explain the trait in question? What underlying
values of American culture might this exemplify?
Sometimes our values and beliefs will conflict and sometimes they will
converge with the cultures we visit. The better you are able to adjust
to the differences, the greater the ability you will have in empathizing
and communicating with those with whom you come in contact. The result
will be a better understanding of your own values and the values of
the people you will encounter in Europe.