Preparing for culture shock

The sounds of a new language, the taste of foods you’ve never tried before, the jaw-dropping and often scary means of transportation… Everything is exciting when you travel to a new country.

However, at some point in your trip, you are bombarded with so many new experiences that you may feel overwhelmed. In some cases, the local living conditions may shock you. The poverty may cause heartache and frustration. The change of pace may create confusion and stress. You may start to feel upset with the people and situations around you and you may start to retreat into yourself.

If you find that you’re excited one minute and desperately dazed the next, you might be experiencing “culture shock.” This is most easily defined as a “shock of the new” which results from the inability to integrate into an unfamiliar culture, emotionally or otherwise, and can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, even physical illness at times.

This is not uncommon when individuals from a developed country like the United States choose to volunteer in less-developed countries like in our project destinations. Even when traveling to help and empower communities less fortunate than your own, the feeling of culture shock may happen. In addition to being frustrated with others, you may start to feel guilty that you feel this way. Know that the experience is completely normal and you’re not alone.

Utopia Volunteers staff will help you prepare for culture shock by educating you on what to expect before you leave. We want you to have realistic expectations of life in your destination country, and a thorough understanding of what the conditions will be like on your volunteer project. We also want to help you prepare for transitioning to life back at home, which surprisingly, can also trigger culture shock.

In your pre-departure orientation and information packet, we’ll provide education to help you prepare for this. We’re here to support you through each step of your volunteer experience, so if you have any questions about culture shock, let us know.

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