Culture & Diversity Abroad
Preparing for cultural adjustment
Engaging with your host community and culture is central to the study abroad experience and to the discoveries that you will make about yourself and your host country. But remember: the level and depth of interaction that you will have with the local culture will depend largely on your own initiative, and the process starts long before your arrival in your host country.
Learn about your destination
Take some time before you depart to set specific goals for yourself while you are abroad, and plan how you might accomplish them. Begin by researching the basic history of your host country and/or city, as well as local politics and government, language, religion, holidays, traditional art and music, the economic system, customs and traditions, gender roles, recent hot topics and controversies. Refer to the Study Abroad Office website for a list of questions and resources.
Also consult the following resources for important country information:
- Travel.State.Gov (U.S. Department of State)
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Global Health Information
- CIA World Factbook
Consider your identity abroad
It is important to consider aspects of your identity and how these may be perceived and treated in your host environment. Do some research into social norms, cultural mores, and local practices before your program begins by consulting the following resource page in the Study Abroad Guide.
- Accessibility abroad
- First generation college students abroad
- Gender abroad
- LGBTQ students abroad
- Race and ethnicity abroad
- Religion and spirituality abroad
- Students with high financial need abroad
Prepare for cultural adjustment
Review the Life in a Foreign Culture page on the Study Abroad Office website for information and tips for anticipating and dealing with the cultural adjustment process. Many resources will discuss common themes and experiences, representing phases of highs (comfort and excitement) and lows (discomfort and anxiety), but also consider the following:
- "Culture shock" is normal and however you experience it is normal. Moods shift when cultures shift, and it is common for students to experience a wide range of emotions during their time abroad.
- Intercultural adjustment not only varies by individual but also by program. You may find that some of the traditional "low" phases may correspond with program excursions or holidays and produce a "high."
- Cultural transitions can trigger or exacerbate mental health challenges or conditions. Consult the Mental Health Abroad resource page to prepare for mental health considerations and services abroad.
- Be aware of what you are experiencing. If you encounter any difficulties or discomfort, which prevent you from being successful, discuss this with your on-site administrators or IPD.