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Should fear of culture shock stop me from interning overseas?

A Greek intern in Canada shares his thoughts on homesickness.

It is a dream for the adventurer; a door to an unexpected realm of knowledge for the scholar; or simply put, it’s a way for students to get out and see the world. This is what the word internship evokes when I think about the vast opportunities available overseas.

Yet, going on an internship abroad is also a two-edged sword: the moment you set off to a foreign country, the excitement and the satisfying rush of freedom is replaced by one overwhelming phenomenon – culture shock. Yes, the common experience every traveller knows all too well.

But don’t get it mixed up with homesickness! Culture shock is a sense of unease and dislocation that comes from staying at a foreign country for some time. It happens in four stages: wonder, frustration, depression and acceptance. And each stage varies in length for different people.

Now you may be wondering if doing an internship is worth it because there seems to be a lot of work and emotional feelings involved. I can tell you that it is absolutely worth the trouble. First of all, there are ways to counter culture shock and the best way you can do that is to make friends with the locals and learn about the country you are living in. Keep an open mind and enjoy yourself by learning their language, culture and trying out every single delicacy!

However, reading about how to cope with culture shock is easier than actually dealing with it. We interviewed Apostolos, a Greek citizen on an internship in Edmonton, and he answered a few questions on culture shock: 

How hard was the transition for you adjusting to a new environment, food and people? Well, I guess my transition was and still is pretty smooth. Environment? It is too cold but I am fighting it. I do not have a choice! Food? The only thing that impressed me is the obsession people have with sandwiches and fast food in general! People? I think Edmontonians are some of the most friendly people I have ever met. Honestly. 

What are some ways that you overcame culture shock? Besides some “funny” stuff, I think I did not have a true cultural shock. Well, everything IS bigger here like roads and cars—even food portions!!

Did/do you feel homesick? I would lie if I say I did not. I felt home sick during Christmas and New Year’s. And that is mainly because I was not working, I guess. But yeah, I miss the warmth you get in your face from the sunlight and the smell of the ocean.

Whether or not to go on an internship is your choice. My suggestion to those who are still weighing the pros and cons is to be spontaneous and take whatever is thrown at you as bravely as you can. As the cliché goes: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! 

Born and raised in Edmonton, Bonnie Truong is a spontaneous student with many dreams for her future. Currently, she is the written press director of AIESEC Edmonton and a writer for Lazy Faire business magazine at the University of Alberta, School of Business. After graduating, she hopes to travel around the world with her friends, possibly learn French and live in Los Angeles or Australia.


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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Dylan Muñoz

For over 50 years, AIESEC Canada has been facilitating their Global Internship Program in Canada and abroad for companies, students and recent grads. AIESEC Canada is one part of the world’s largest student-run organization and is based out of Toronto. A number of AIESEC interns will be blogging on this site.  For more information please visit www.aiesec.ca.

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