Culture Shock

To begin with, any travel and international experience is certain to be filled with a high degree of ambiguity, uncertainty, culture shock, and a myriad of differences to which people must adjust.  Each semester, COST sends between 40-50 students to 12 different countries for overseas student teaching experiences.  While the majority of students (95-98%) have extremely rewarding, albeit demanding and trying experiences, this may not be the case for everyone.   On occasion, students find that they are not able to make all of the adjustments that are required of them to have a successful experience.  Accompanying this is the fact that many students, and their families, may begin to blame any number of factors in the experience. 

Culture Shock

Source: 1000 Cultural Encounters

While things have been relatively smooth at home, and you have been busy packing, finishing classes, saying good-bye to family and friends, and hopefully reading a bit about the upcoming experience, once you arrive at your overseas destination suddenly most things in your surroundings will change.  Student teachers overseas find themselves faced with new foods, a new environment, new accents and/ or languages, new educational systems, lack of familiarity with local teaching examples and methods, new living arrangements, different means of transportation, missing family and friends, and yes even your familiar college faculty and facilities. While everybody reacts differently to these changes, everybody, nonetheless, is affected.

This is the basis of culture shock; the fact that things in one’s immediate surroundings suddenly do not provide all that one has expected in the past.  There is a certain period of time in which everyone must make adjustments.  Beyond your growth as a teacher, this is perhaps the most critical period of time in one’s experience.  As one slowly begins to adjust to all of the changes, one truly begins to understand the other culture and more easily understands how others operate within their world.  What initially may have been seen as “strange” or even threatening, soon begins to make more sense.

Do not be surprised if early in the experience you (or a parent) express a certain amount of discomfort and anxiety, and perhaps even begin questioning why you went overseas in the first place.  Trust that this period will pass.  Please do not make hasty judgments about the experience.  We urge you to wait at least 2-3 weeks before even talking to one another, as these initial anxieties, which are quite natural, have a tendency to be overblown in everyone’s mind.  If there has been some homesickness or culture shock and you telephone home, soon after you hang up, things may very well return to some balance.  And certainly after a few weeks, the local situation will make more sense to you.