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Interning abroad: 8 ways to cope with culture shock & embrace it

Culture shock can occur as a result of total immersion in a new culture markedly different from your own. It can leave you feeling slightly disorientated trying to take in all of your new surroundings, sounds, tastes, a different way of life & language, distinct cultural norms and perhaps even a new climate.

It is one of the small barriers which you must be willing to overcome in order to have the enjoyment of experiencing other countries and cultures in depth.

For the majority of people, culture shock is brief and hardly noticeable, and if you do experience culture shock it is generally short-lived. There are easy ways to overcome it and become more comfortable no matter where you are in the world, so you can get back to enjoying your new experiences to the fullest.

These are the adjustment stages you could experience:

Honeymoon Period

Initially, discovering a new country is fascinating and exciting because of all the new things and people are usually ecstatic to be in a new culture with a feeling of euphoria. However, it can be inevitable that at some point you might experience a dip in emotions. This is known as culture shock.

Mental Fatigue & Anxiety

You can find yourself eventually experiencing mental fatigue & anxiety due to your new surroundings. It's OK to feel overwhelmed. Mental fatigue & anxiety can result from continuously straining to comprehend the foreign language, difficulty understanding the new culture and in conveying your personality in a different language & culture. You may find your focus can quickly turn from the similarities to the differences, which suddenly seem to be everywhere and feel overwhelming.

Initial Adjustment

You are now over the initial bump and are on your way to recovery after overcoming a slight drop in emotion following the initial euphoria. The new culture now seems more familiar. Everyday activities become more comfortable, you now understand cultural nuances and are now able to convey ideas, feelings and your personality in a different language & culture.

Adaption, Biculturalism & Self-Confidence

Overcoming this minor barrier known as ‘culture shock’ will lead to an abundance of self-confidence, adaptability, independence, cultural competence, and an understanding of your own cultural values in a new context. You can now function in two cultures with confidence, embracing all new cultural norms and feel extremely comfortable with the new friends and colleagues you have made in your new country. You might even find the new ways of doing and saying things, cultural norms and personal attitudes are something that you will miss when it is time to leave.

8 Ways to minimize the impact of ‘culture shock’

1. Before departing immerse yourself in the history & culture

Before traveling, research the destination to know if it will be right for you. Try to find out about the culture by reading guidebooks, novels, and news reports. Or you could even use your Netflix bingeing for good by finding some foreign documentaries or films to watch. It is important to know what might be different from your home country, and knowing these in advance can help you start processing anything that could potentially shock you.

2. Learn the language as BEST you can before traveling

Having some knowledge of the native language is a simple & incredibly effective way to adjust faster to any new culture. Even if your language level is zero, try to learn a few basic phrases (or more!) in the local language. It's not just a way to understand more, but also to make friends, not feel like an outsider, enjoy the experience to the fullest and help you adjust to the culture tremendously while you’re abroad. You don’t want to find yourself playing bad charades with locals.

3. Make friends with locals

You’ll learn so much if you make local friends - they are the experts in their own culture and can explain to you all the crazy questions you might have, and help to get to know the host culture & understand it better, so you feel more comfortable. They are the ones that are going to open you up to the best local spots, restaurants, places to visit and experiences. One of the causes of culture shock may be because you feel like too much of an outsider, so get involved with the local community as much as possible.

4. Talk to someone about your experience

If you do not know how something works or how to do something in your new country, then ask people. You will be surrounded by other interns experiencing similar things to you, ask them about how they feel, strategies they've used to cope with cultural differences, or you can talk to the locals you are living with or working with. Both will be willing to help.

5. Stop the comparisons

Avoid comparing your country to your new country. Whether or not you approve of the cultural differences, they are not going to change just for you. Confront it, embrace it, understand it, make the best of it, move on & laugh about any funny interactions later.

Try to forget your own worldview, try to understand the world the way your host culture does and gain a deeper insight into the culture so you can understand it better.

6. Stay in contact with friends & family from home

Friends and family will be eager to know about your adventure abroad, so catch up with them regularly on the phone or through video calling. Talk about the things you love about the new country as well as the things that you don’t.

7. Don’t let one bad experience change your entire perception

A faulty ATM machine eating your card, a taxi driver refusing to give you service for some unknown reason, or a restaurant where the concept of customer service does not exist - all these things are never anything personal, but simply cultural differences. It is easy to misinterpret one bad experience, assume that the entire country is a certain stereotype or that the country must have something against you as a person.

8. Embrace the positive aspects of the culture that you would not experience in your own country

There are always components of every culture that you can learn from. How about the trust and relationship-oriented business culture in Latin America? Or the fact that everybody in Colombia loves to dance and enjoy themselves. There are good qualities and positive cultural characteristics to be picked up from every destination you go to.


If you would like to know more about our internship programs in South America, please contact a member of our team. To learn about our new virtual internships - click here.

This blog post was written & published by Intern Colombia on 8 June 2020


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