Workshop for outgoing students "The benefits of culture shock"


Servizio relazioni internazionali e mobilità

22 Ottobre 2021

On 11 May, students going on mobility during the academic year 2021-22 attended a mandatory workshop on culture shock, to acquire knowledge and tools to face a semester abroad with a new awareness.

The workshop was held in virtual mode by prof. Jolanta Drzewiecka, professor of Intercultural Communication at USI. The workshop revolved around theoretical concepts related to the meaning of culture, the stages of cultural adaptation, how culture shapes our behaviour, our sense of community and helps us define our position in a given system.

During this interactive workshop, prof. Drzewiecka talked about the importance of experiential learning. Being in a different place is an opportunity to learn not only about the cultures of the new place but also about ourselves and our own culture and how we react to new situations, new places or meeting new people. In short, developing “intercultural communication literacy” – skills that make it easier for us to move in different places, means turning the culture shock from something to be feared and avoided into an opportunity for learning.

Furthermore, she shared knowledge and insights about the meaning of culture, its specificities and what it means to experience the culture shock curve. The key is to understand that times of stress and being overwhelmed will not last long and will lead to learning.

Is there a magic formula to smoothly navigate through a period abroad and mitigate the culture shock? Not really, but few key points to keep in mind may help:

  • Observe and take some time to think about what you’re seeing around you, like an anthropologist;
  • Keep reflecting on your own culture, as you are observing the new one;
  • Cultures are different and there will be times when you might feel lost or confused but also remember that there are many similarities among cultures and people;
  • Practice tolerance for ambiguity,  when you do not understand what is going on, “take a back seat and let it play out”;
  • Find informants, people who can explain things to you, and you will make friends;
  • Take breaks and withdraw from interactions to relieve stress, and use it as an opportunity to think about what you have learned about yourself and your culture.
  • Don’t generalize, it can be misleading, rather identify patterns of behaviour and thinking. Remember that every culture is full of contradictions and heterogeneous rather than homogenous. 

We were very proud to count 30 participants in the workshop and to hear very positive feedback.

The workshop is part of a project by the International Relations and Study Abroad Service to follow our outgoing students in their mobility experiences and offer them activities both before and after the mobility to equip them with knowledge and soft skills in the context of an exchange in a different culture.

After their return to USI, an informal event will be organized to debrief and allow them to share their experience.

We would like to thank prof. Drzewiecka for her commitment and availability and the students for their active participation.