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International Study Resources

Prior to your departure, you should spend as much time as possible learning about the culture into which you will enter, plan your packing and departure, and make arrangements for when you return to continue your studies at Augustana, including any necessary housing, registration and financial aid.

Culture Shock

Whether you are a participant on an Augustana study abroad term or if you have decided to do a study abroad program on your own you will have to learn to adjust to different lifestyle, food, cultures, expectations, climate, and time zones.  Frustrations and confusion during your first few days and weeks is usually called "culture shock."  Variations of culture shock can affect even the most seasoned traveler.  Symptoms can include depression, difficulty sleeping or eating, homesickness, trouble concentrating, and irritation with your host culture.  If you are having difficulty with any of these issues, try some of the suggestions below.  If you do not feel better within a few days, you should contact your on-site faculty or program director.

  • Learn as much as possible from the local residents about their culture.
  • Keep in touch with other Americans/Augustana students.
  • Keep yourself busy doing things you enjoy.
  • During free time, do not sit in your room - go for a walk, visit a museum, see a movie.
  • Keep in touch with family and friends back home.
  • Try to keep your long-range goals in mind.

Fitting in While Studying Abroad

Experiencing a new culture may involve some frustration and feelings of loneliness but they will not last forever.  Your study abroad experience will be more enjoyable if you try to become part of the local social environment. However, remember that you are a guest.

  • Learn what behavior is and is not appropriate - act accordingly.
  • Observe local students in your dormitory, on campus and on the street.
  • If you live with a host family, see how they dress and interact with one another.
  • Do not be afraid of asking questions about local customs and traditions.
  • Do not become the "ugly American" by perpetuating the unflattering stereotype of an American tourist: one that throws money around, drinks too much, is loud and rude, expects all foreigners to speak English (even if you are outside of US borders) and is always in a hurry.

Learning and Respecting Local Customs

It is advisable to do some reading before departing regarding culture-specific norms of friendship and dating between people of any sexual orientation.   For instance:

  • If you are in a country where more conservative clothing is the norm, or where there is an expectation that certain parts of your body be covered, such as your head, shoulders, arms or legs, please dress in a way that respects the local cultural, and often religious, norms. 
  • Public displays of affection may not be acceptable in many locations.  In some countries, it is frowned upon for couples to hold hands or display physical affection in public.  While in some cultures it is common to kiss or hug old and new friends alike, in others physical contact is very limited.  Try to learn the expectations for personal space and physical contact before you travel.
  • Most countries have customs associated with religion and sacred places. Learn these customs.  Remember that sacred sites can vary greatly from an outdoor site to a cathedral, temple, mosque, shrine, etc. and that it is best to show restraint and modesty in these locations.  Tourists often offend people by forgetting that what for them is a siteseeing stop is for the local people a place of devotion, meditation and prayer.
  • Watch your body language: Saying hello or goodbye via a simple hand gesture is done quite differently from country to country - even within Europe.  A gesture which may seem innocent in the United States may be quite vulgar in other nations.
  • Consider how loudly you and your friends are conversing.  Americans have a reputation for speaking loudly, especially in groups, and often overpower the quieter conversations of locals around them.  This is considered quite inappropriate and can lead to resentment and even confrontation with locals.  As a good guest, you should try not to be disruptive to those around you.
  • How close should you sit or stand when talking? These are all items that you should know before you arrive at your study abroad destination.  Most good tour books will give you good pointers on cultural norms, body language, gestures and appropriate clothing.

Helpful Links

US Department of State - www.state.gov

Essential help from the US government, for everything from travel safety advisories to crisis assistance for US citizens abroad, as well as contact information for all US embassies and consulates abroad. Also lists foreign embassies and consulates in the US.

The World at Your Fingertips  Provides information on travel, health, safety issues, financial aid and cultural adjustment.

Study Abroad Student Handbook  From the Center for Global Education - an excellent resource.

Culturally Correct Clothing Advice (for women) Simply click on the first letter of the country you're traveling to and you'll get "what-to-wear" tips.