20 October 2008

Ask Sarah

Kia Ora once again everyone! To change things up a bit, rather than rambling on about my general state of existence I'm going to be answering questions posed by teachers from across the great state of North Carolina. As I tend to be long-winded and want to answer the questions as fully as possible, I'll be tackling one or two a day for the next week--and hopefully the gut-wrenching anticipation of what pearls of wisdom will be offered next will keep you coming back for more. So here we go!

Question 1

I've enjoyed reading your posts and used your experiences to expand and deepen my knowledge of New Zealand.

My high school hosts several exchange students each year. Our students also participate in semester and year-long study abroad programs. A common problem for both groups is culture shock, when they arrive in the host country and also when they re-enter their own culture. How did you prepare for culture shock? Can you post some tips that will make transition to a new culture easier for students planning to study abroad?


Ron Thomas,
International Baccalaureate Coordinator
Myers Park High School
Charlotte, North Carolina

Amazingly Insightful Answer 1:

Thanks Ron, hopefully my posts have provided you with both amusement and information. As far as preparing for culture shock, really the only thing you can do is accept the fact that it's going to happen, and that you can't really prepare for it. It certainly helps to know as much about your host country as possible before arriving; but ultimately no encyclopedia or travel book can really convey the feel for a culture.

Culture shock can come in any crazy combination of confusion, excitement, disbelief, amazement, fear, depression...you name it, you'll get hit with it. But when you experience these emotions--and EVERYONE does--I've found the best way to deal is to simply recognize them for what they are, and just tell yourself over and over again they are only temporary and all part of the process.

Something I found to be incredibly helpful in dealing with crazy culture-shock moments is to find a place in your host city--like a beautiful courtyard, comfy cafe, a shady spot in a park, etc.--that for whatever reason really resonates with you and makes you feel truly comfortable and secure. Make this spot "your place" of retreat and solace. Personalizing a small piece of your new city helps you to feel more connected and "at home,"and little less like a clueless visitor in a strange new land.

Talking to a friend or family member back home on a regular basis is also a great way to ground yourself and help assuage any feelings of being "lost at sea." Sharing your new observations and experiences with loved ones is an excellent way to better understand and appreciate the complexities of the culture in which you are participating.

Lastly, I personally believe the culture shock period is one of the most invaluable parts of a study abroad journey. It's the time when you really come to terms with the fact that your way of life is NOT the only one out there, and it's when you start to realize all the little things in your life and even your thought processes that you didn't even know could be different or culturally influenced--something I've found to be one of the most rewarding parts of living in a different country.
So while it may be a really difficult period in your time abroad, just try and remember that you're going to come out of it a better, wiser, more appreciative person.

Hopefully all or at least parts of this will be helpful to anyone lucky enough to embark on a study abroad adventure. Stay tuned, as there are more questions and answers to come! Cheers!

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