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Orientation and Cultural Preparation

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Pre-departure Orientation

Pre-departure Expectations

Culture Shock

Preparing for Cultural Adjustment

Coping Strategies

Other Preparation Resources

Pre-Departure Orientation

Pre-departure orientation (PDO) is a critical part of your Program. It is comprised of several activities. All PDO activities are mandatory and must be completed by the established deadlines.  Failure to complete PDO requirements will result in dismissal from the program. If you are dismissed from the program, you will be held to the withdrawal penalties policy.

  • Topics: Academic options, passports and visas, program types, applications, financial aid, & scholarships
  • Format: Offered in person or online.
  • Timeframe: Must be completed before your application will be considered for admission to the Program.
  • Topics: Course registration, grading, billing, cultural preparation, health, safety, insurance, & travel logistics
  • Format: Offered Online.  After you commit to a Program, modules will appear in the Assessment section of your U of U Application.
  • Timeframe: Deadlines for completion:
      • For Fall Semester & Academic Year Programs: June 15th
      • Fall Break Programs: September 15th
      • For Spring Semester, Spring Break and Winter Break Programs: December 15th
      • For Summer Programs: April 15th
  • Topics: Specific information about Program expectations, housing, excursions, course requirements, & host city/country
  • Format: Offered in person.  Students at the U Asia Campus should expect to join meetings by skype or online.
  • Timeframe: If Program-specific meetings are scheduled, attendance is mandatory.  Information will be sent to your Umail account.

Pre-departure Expectations

You’re embarking on an adventure – it’s almost impossible not to have expectations. Beware! Expectations may lead to disappointment. Try to be as open-minded as possible and flexible in new situations. If you are not expecting everything to be like home, you will be less frustrated and will adapt more easily to the new environment.

Consider that your way is not the only “right” way to do things. Try to accept new ways of doing things and different perspectives on the world. Other cultures have a different sense of right and wrong and a different understanding of common sense, politeness, appropriate behavior, etc. than you do. Being humble and respectful will help you foster relationships with people in your host country. The best advice is to pay close attention to the local people and then emulate their behavior and attitude. Try to blend with the culture. Half of the fun of going abroad is learning about the things people from other cultures do differently. The other half is adding some of their customs, beliefs and perspectives to your own way of thinking. The result will be an enhanced understanding and appreciation of your own country and the world.

Culture Shock

Culture shock is a symptom of having to adjust to a culture different than your own. Culture shock is real and plays an important role in adjusting to your host country. As a result of culture shock, you may feel homesickness, depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and anger which can make it difficult to do daily tasks.

You should expect to experience some level of culture shock. Symptoms of culture shock include:

  • Feeling disoriented or lost
  • Drinking excessively
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Closing up (not talking to others)
  • Lack of confidence and feeling insecure
  • Making a bigger issue out of something than it needs to be
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Impatience or unwillingness to try to understand the new surroundings
  • Feeling lonely most of the time
  • Inability to accept anything in the new place
  • Social withdrawal - Not feeling like doing anything
  • Homesickness
  • Inability to relate to or understand others
  • Inability to feel comfortable in day to day life
  • Believing that by learning the new culture you are betraying your roots

It is important to note that many of the symptoms could be attributed to other aspects of travel, and many travelers do not recognize that they are experiencing culture shock. A common misconceptions is that a traveler is suffering from jet lag rather than culture shock, but you cannot “sleep off” culture shock. If left unaddressed, culture shock can have a significant impact on your experience abroad.

Preparing for Cultural Adjustment

One of the most important aspects of cultural adjustment is recognizing your own cultural biases. The Peace Corp has developed an independent training workbook to help travelers understand their own cultural perspectives and idiosyncrasies. The workbook also has resources for navigating new cultures and how the host culture interacts with your own life experiences. The Culture Matters workbook is available for free online. We strongly encourage you to consider using it as a resource in preparing to enter your host culture.

It is important that you have some knowledge of local culture and custom before arriving in the host country. This will ease your transition into the community and help you interact with your new neighbors more effectively. There are many online resources to help you prepare for your experience. We recommend starting with Culture Crossings. This website allows you to search cultural information by country. Topics include communication, dress, customs, and academic culture. It also provides information on thinking about your own culture and how you might be perceived in the host country.

We also recommend purchasing a travel guide before departure. Good travel guides—such as Fodor’s, Let’s Go, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, and Rough Guides—not only provide logistical travel tips but also include sections on history, language, culture and customs. Additionally, you could consider the following resources:

  • Lectures on campus and in the community
  • Books
  • Pre-departure orientation
  • Movies
  • University of Utah Area Studies Centers & Institutes

Coping Strategies

The key to dealing with culture shock is recognizing it and reacting in a way that enables to you cope and learn. The Learning Abroad Office recommends using the following techniques to deal with culture shock:

  1. Acknowledge that you are struggling and identify your symptoms. Remember that struggling with culture shock is normal.
  2. Disengage from the situation temporarily. Take a deep breath, step back and look at the situation objectively. By intentionally taking this step, you can reduce the emotional reaction that you have to the situation.
  3. Assess your reaction. Isolate what is was about the situation that made you react. Why did you react that way? What specifically upset you or made you uncomfortable?
  4. Pursue learning more about this aspect of the culture. Observe the locals in similar situations. Diplomatically, ask questions about the practice or tradition. Based on the responses you receive, reassess your reaction. Now that you know more about what you experienced, were your initial reactions appropriate? Did you accurately interpret the situation? Reflect on what you’ve learned.
  5. Tolerate or Acclimate to the local culture. Most travelers do not like everything about the host culture. In those cases, you may need to tolerate local customs. Remember, your experience abroad is temporary, and there are even aspects of your own culture that you may not like. At a minimum, you will need to acclimate to the host culture. In other cases, you may find that you enjoy the traditions of your host culture. In these situations, consider taking steps to adopt the local traditions in safe manner that will enhance your experience in the host country.

If you feel overwhelmed, do not be afraid to discuss your feelings with the Program Director or your peers. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone and most likely other participants in the program are having similar experiences. The following is a list of ideas to help you deal with the challenges of living in a different culture:

Things you can do with other participants

Talk with your peers- You are likely to find that other students are experiencing some of the same frustrations as you are. Talk with other participants about how they are dealing with these challenges.

Talk to your Program Director - Program directors are there to help you with issues of culture shock. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, approach these individuals for help or advice.

Ask questions- Sometimes, the key to understanding what you’re feeling is to understand what is going on around you. If you see something that you don’t understand, ask about it.

Things you can do on your own

Journaling or blogging- Journaling and blogging provide you with an opportunity to express what you’re experiencing and organize your thoughts.

Read or listen to music- Bring a book that will take your mind off the frustration that goes along with Culture Shock. Music can also provide background noise during journaling, soothe worries, and stimulate creativity.

Exercise- If you are accustomed to regular exercise, continue this practice to the best of your ability. Physical exercise helps reduce stress and clear the mind for better concentration, and will help in dealing with the challenges of a new culture.

Things to remember

I came here to experience new things- One reason for studying abroad is the desire to leave your comfort zone. It can be helpful to remember this when feeling out of sync with your surroundings.

It’s not just me- Most travelers experience culture shock at some level when traveling. If you talk with your peers, you are likely to find that they are feeling some of the same things that you are.

Left untreated, culture shock can turn your program into a miserable experience. Being able to identify culture shock and manage it effectively will help you enjoy the cultural challenges of learning abroad.

Other Resources for Preparation

The best travelers are well-informed! The more preparation you do before departure, the more you will enjoy your time on-site. There are a number of excellent resources available that will help you learn more about your destinations.

Give tips on places to see, health and safety concerns, hotels and accommodations, restaurants, entertainment, pricing, tipping, dress codes, local transit systems, history, culture, etc. Commonly used travel guides include: Fodor’s Travel, Let’s Go, Lonely Planet, Rick Steve’s, and the Rough Guides.  Learning Abroad has sample travel guides that you can review to help you choose a format and brand.

You may find that people in your host country are more informed about world events than you are.  A list of international newspapers by region is available online.

Movies and TV channels can provide a wealth of information.  We recommend the BBC, PBS, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and CNN.

Visit the Marriott Library on campus or the Salt Lake City Public Library for assistance in identifying books that suit your interests.  You can also reach out to the U’s International and Area Studies for suggestions.
Last Updated: 5/1/17