Summer is here and you are ready to hit the road, passport in hand, to your adventure abroad.
Whether it is your first or fiftieth trip abroad, international travel comes with new opportunities and challenges. And while you may have read the books, visited the blogs, and talked with friends, it is almost impossible to be FULLY prepared for all the unknowns that come with traveling to a different country and experiencing its culture.
The only and best way to prepare is by being a culturally competent traveler.
What does culturally competent mean?
It is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations based on one’s intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes.”
Awareness of one’s own cultural communication and behavior and that of the host culture.
Ability to adapt and adjust to a new cultural environment.
Be flexible and willing to select and use culturally appropriate communication and behavior.
Being a cultural competent traveler will empower you to:
- Effectively manage culture shock
- Have meaningful interactions with members of the host culture
- Broaden your ability to adapt and adjust to difference and change
Culture shock is tricky. It can sneak up on you when you least expect it.
You see differences exist, even though we don’t always know what they are, we experience them.
And when this happens it creates stress, which we call Culture Shock. It is caused by:
Daily dilemmas: How do I mail this postcard? Which bus do I take? Where can I find something to eat?
Stress of the unfamiliar: I don’t speak the language! What is everyone saying?
Old behaviors do not produce same results: I thought I was being polite. Why did they look at me as though I was rude?
Difficulty letting go of old ways: I know they bow here, but bowing doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Why can’t I just shake hands.
Once you learn the culturally appropriate thing to do, it is then quite stressful to apply it rather than going with what comes naturally to you.
Making the effort to change and adapt your behavior creates different feelings ranging from excitement and creativity to frustration and exhaustion. That is culture shock: Its real, common, and can get worse but you can minimize its effects if you learn to read the signs and respond
The signs of culture shock are: Frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, conflict, boredom, and isolation.
So what do you do?
Before your trip:
- Build a support network of friends and family who you can reach out to through out your experience.
- Identify stress relieving activities you can do in the host country.
- Have a “go to” friend you can depend on to listen and support you no matter what!
While you are there:
Value other cultures and do not judge the things you don’t understand. Accept differences at face value, and give yourself time to understand the deeper underlying values for things you don’t understand.
Be willing to learn and try new things. Listen to and observe others to learn more about the culture, its people, and processes.
Asking questions is a great way to get information. Curiosity inspires critical thinking and will help you avoid frustration and judging.
Some differences will be easily understood and adapted to, while others will be more difficult. Being able to tolerate things that are confusing, unknown, and ambiguous can reduce the anxiety and frustration that leads to culture shock.
When you return home:
Think about your experience, what you learned, and how it changed you and your worldview.
Traveling abroad often shines a spotlight on our cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors. Think critically about your own cultural norms and what might be the cultural values that create the difference.
Understandingly, there may be aspects of another culture and our own which we prefer, but this doesn’t make one better than the other. Just different!
The traveler’s blues comes quickly, once you get back home (if you had a positive experience). But you don’t want to put your experience behind you, but rather find a way to make it a part of your everyday life. Being thoughtful and intentional in your reflection and analyses, will help you figure out how to do it.
I was 16 when I traveled abroad for the first time. I was lucky enough to spend 6 weeks in a cultural exchange in Majorca, Spain. I absolutely fell in love with learning another language and culture; with each new word I learned and cultural barrier I overcame, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment.
The only thing I could think of while I was there was, “How can I do this for the rest of my life?”
I’ve been able to convert my passion for language, culture, and travel into work I love.
If you are interested in culture and intercultural work join our FREE July Hub Chat:
Sunday, July 14th @1:00 pm PDT, 2:00pm MDT, 4:00 pm EDT, 9:00 pm BST
Please register for July Hub Chat at:
This Hub Chat will introduce you to the professional world of interculturalism. I’m going to share:
- My experience as an interculturalist
- Your professional options
- Educational and professional development resources
And you can ask all the questions you want!
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.