Amanda Abel Jan 25 2019

Where are We Now? Helping Students Deal with Culture Shock

Xijiang-helping-students-with-culture-shockIf you’ve ever traveled, you can probably relate to the excitement one feels when stepping off a plane into a new cultural landscape. Looking around, senses on high alert, adrenaline rising, we feel alive in the moment as we face the unknown. Some of my most unusual and beautiful experiences have come from my travels. Whether it was spending the night in a mud hut in the bush in Zimbabwe; watching the sun set as cowboys round up cattle on a ranch in Cuba; or bedding down in a Mongolian yurt, sipping warm yak milk; I’ve learned and grown from every place I’ve lived and every location I’ve visited. But even after 30+ years of expat life and extensive travel, I still experience a certain level of culture shock when traveling. It’s normal. And it’s to be expected.  

When traveling with students on long educational trips, one way I have found to mitigate the ill effects of culture shock is to encourage them to approach the situation from a mindful perspective. I remind them that new experiences can be framed positively or negatively—either with wonder and delight or with fear and disgust—and it’s up to them how they choose to look at it. Throughout the trip, I intentionally look for opportunities to frame and reframe our shared experiences toward the positive.

international-students-cultural-experiencesEducational travel at Concordia often involves service-oriented activities, which come with some discomfort and hardship that many students are not accustomed to. In these situations, I strive to make the experience a lesson in empathy (compassion in action). I model empathy by getting involved, starting conversations and demonstrating to students ways to help those in need. For me it is important to inspire students to seek out opportunities to serve or be kind to the people they encounter on these types of trips.

We are raising global citizens in our homes and in our schools; the next generation will be the stewards of our planet and the peace makers of the future. As educators we should equip international students for the ups and downs and invite them to approach new cultural experiences from a growth mindset. That way they are better able to delight in the wonders of this amazing planet.


Article submitted by Amanda Abel, a middle school counselor at Concordia International School Shanghai.