When you talk to seniors about their memories and life experiences, most of them would tell you that some of their most beautiful and meaningful moments occurred when they stepped outside of their comfort zone.
As busy adults, we tend to slip into monotony and routine far too easily. Traveling to a foreign country is one of the best ways to step outside your established comfort zone. There are so many people who dream about traveling and living abroad, yet many of them fail to realize that dream. The fear of facing unfamiliarity and experiencing culture shock deters many from starting their journey.
Culture shock can be best described as emotional disorientation characterized by feelings of shock and anxiety. It occurs when you are placed in a foreign environment far away from your hometown, family, and friends. Most people experience a degree of homesickness and distress at the start of their travels. Being exposed to a different language, sights, smells, people, and an entirely new culture can be both an exhilarating and overwhelming experience.
Although the majority of people who travel abroad experience a degree of culture shock, it is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, experiencing culture shock is a very positive thing, especially during young adulthood, because it gives you the opportunity to learn about yourself, teaches you how to think on your feet and adapt, and presents you with the opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely new culture, and then emerge as a global citizen.
Here are five reasons for why experiencing culture shock is actually good for you:
1. Experiencing culture shock will shape your personality significantly by teaching you to trust your gut, survive during periods of loneliness and unfamiliarity, and develop a thicker skin.
People experience tremendous personal growth when they are facing vulnerability. Yes, being in an unfamiliar environment can be scary, uncomfortable, and confusing. However, those moments shape who you are as a person by helping you discover your capabilities and what you are made of. Stressful situations expose character, and more often than not, help to build it too.
2. Experiencing culture shock by coming into contact with a new language will force you to adapt and learn the new language quickly.
Knowing a secondary language is becoming a necessity in our interconnected world. Learning a language in a classroom is quite different than immersing yourself in a new culture and learning the language on your feet. Language and thought are connected, so by learning a new language, you will gain an opportunity to think differently as well.
3. After the effects of culture shock subside and you become more comfortable in your new surroundings, you will have an opportunity to expand your circle of friends to include people from all over the world.
One of the best things about traveling and living abroad is meeting new people and fostering friendships with others. Meeting people who have different perspectives, backgrounds, and life experiences can be a transformative experience because it often shapes you into a more open-minded individual. Likewise, it also opens doors of opportunities for you in other parts of the world that would otherwise be inaccessible to you.
4. You should never be afraid of culture shock because getting to know an entirely new culture is a tremendously exciting and liberating experience.
When you travel or live abroad, you will have the opportunity to see things you may not otherwise see, and do fun and unique things that you can’t do in your home country. Imagine how exciting it would be ride an elephant in Southeast Asia, travel through the rice fields in China, walk through the Red Square in Russia or explore the Amazon basin in Brazil. Exploring a new culture by discovering its music, trying new foods and learning about the history and traditions of your destination not only enriches you as an individual, but also adds valuable life experience that you will remember in old age.
5. Experiencing culture shock will teach you the valuable lesson that this world is a small place, and that despite our differences, we are all similar and interconnected.
Despite variation in cultures, languages and ethnicities, we all share similar aspirations: to find love, enjoy what we do, protect our family and loved ones and earn a good living. Traveling abroad truly reinforces the idea that we all share the same human experience on this incredibly beautiful planet.
If you are currently a university student, I encourage you to leave your comfort zone and inhibitions behind and embark on a journey. There are many options available through university exchange programs or through international internships via your local AIESEC chapter. AIESEC offers students the opportunity to participate in international internships and explore the world. Stepping outside your comfort zone by going to a strange and unfamiliar destination is an experience unlike any other, and one that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime.
Ana Parfenova is a fourth-year Political Science and English student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her love of writing, travel, and learning about different cultures led her to become a Public Relations Coordinator for AIESEC UBC.
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