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Coping with Cultural Differences and Stress

Moving to another country can often be traumatic and full of the unexpected. Most likely you will feel overwhelmed, particularly if this is the first time you’ve travelled or lived outside your own country. You’ll find the rules are different when you’re in a place where many of your assumptions about life no longer seem to apply. Suddenly you find yourself cut off from all your familiar cultural cues and patterns. 

In your new country, you may encounter difficulties with language, housing, money, transport, food or health. You may notice yourself growing increasingly frustrated with riding on a confusing public transport system that’s never on time, chatting with people who don’t completely understand every word you say, or going to restaurants with menus you can barely read. You feel like an outsider, and you may even feel slightly depressed. This psychological disorientation is commonly referred to as “culture shock” and it’s an inevitable part of studying abroad. 

Culture shock cycles through feelings of disorientation and integration, from “I hate this place” to “I never want to leave.” At the beginning of your stay abroad, you may often feel uneasy because you can’t predict what’s going to happen in a social situation – like when you extend your hand in greeting and the person grabs you and kisses you three times instead. You can’t prepare for culture shock in any way – sorry! – you just have to deal with it as it arises. You may experience culture shock right after you arrive. Or you could wake up one morning six months later and suddenly think, “Get me out of here now!” The best thing you can do is be flexible. Roll with the punches! Don’t only be prepared to learn what you don’t know, but to unlearn a few things, too. Also, be sure to check out the section later in this chapter on how to cope with culture shock. 


I learned to live with people from other cultures, with other customs. I became a more open-minded person who can respect the differences between people. I learned also that the physical distance we share is not important. A person in Poland can have the same worries as a Spanish person. Everyone is so different but so equal at the same time. Ruth – 4 months in Wroclaw (Poland) 


Taken from the Europemobility guidebook. It is an idea of CSCS. The project aims at contributing to raise the quantity and quality of learning mobility of young people in Europe. Europemobility is the transfer of the findings and results of the MoVe-IT study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the European Commission.