With a record number of Americans studying and working abroad, it’s logical to think that we are creating a generation of more culturally aware people. However, the rapid adaptation of technology into our lives may be keeping travelers and expats from having a truly immersive experience.  

A recent episode of NPR’s All Things Considered details the phenomenon by focusing on the experiences of students who use technology to keep in touch with friends and family whilst studying abroad. Many professors said they were shocked to see how intrusive social media has become as students fail to fully engage with new experiences and people in their environment. The bottom line: tech gets in the way of students having a “good culture shock”, which is an integral part of the experience for anyone taking a long-term international trip.

Culture shock or the Expatriate Adjustment Cycle is most easily defined as a “predictable cycle of ups and downs that [both expats and business travelers] go through as they adjust to a new cultural environment.“ Culture shock is almost always a challenging experience, but also a beneficial one for those with the resolve to bear it.

The ability to be open to new experiences while remaining patient with oneself and others is an important skill for anyone looking to hone their global business skills. This openness can be the starting point for potentially life-changing experiences. At some point, most of us can think of situations where we haven’t been as open minded as we could have been. From language barriers to learning new laws and customs, living and working abroad can be overwhelming – particularly for anyone who has never had the experience of being a minority.

By allowing yourself to see the experience of being abroad through a lens of cultural awareness, you’ll find that each challenge (or embarrassing moment) can actually be a learning experience, rather than a stumbling block on your road to cultural agility.  Perhaps most importantly, you’ll come to realize all the cultural pitfalls you’ve avoided by recognizing culture shock as a normal and manageable experience.

If you are planning a business trip or an international assignment, we encourage you to first take advantage of any and all cultural training your employer offers. If you are a CultureWizard client, be sure to download the CultureWizard Mobile app before you get on the plane.  

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