Study Abroad Students Share their Culture Shock Experiences

With over 150 programs offered across a variety of countries, there is literally a world of possibilities for students to choose from through Point Loma Nazarene Universiy’s Study Abroad Office. 

That being said, living in an unfamiliar place can bring about its own set of worries. Adjusting to a new set of expectations, cultural norms and language barriers can be a lot when first arriving to a new place. Four PLNU students who are currently living abroad for their spring semester share their experiences and offer some tips for adjusting to the culture shock of living abroad.

Jack Aby is a second-year biology major studying at the University of Glasgow in Scotland through International Studies Abroad. While there is no language barrier there, Aby said that the Glaswegian accent can be difficult to understand at times. Additionally, the Scottish Highlands have a completely different language than the rest of the country: Scottish Gaelic.

Glasgow is situated in the northern part of the island, which in comparison to southern California has an opposing climate.

“The sun seemed to be out for a cumulative two hours in the first two weeks I was here,” Aby said. “But once when it did peek out, it caused the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen.”

Aby said that both San Diego and Glasgow are fairly multicultural cities. However, one difference he noted is that in Scotland, people rely on alternative ways of travel, not just cars. This includes walking, cycling and public transportation. 

“One culture shock I’ve encountered is that there is no established side to pass people on the sidewalk,” Aby said. “It’s always a guessing game.”

Just a country away is second-year media communications major Anna Young, who is studying abroad in London through the American Institute for Foreign Study. There is no language barrier for her either, which she said allows her to communicate with more people than if it were a foreign language. Similarly to Aby, a part of her culture shock has been due to London’s heavy reliance on public transportation.

“I’ve been so used to spending time in a car and this city relies so much on the tube,” Young said. “I’ve never really had to use public transportation [before] so getting used to it took a little time.”

Public transportation is not as heavily relied on in parts of Southern California as it is across the United Kingdom and Europe, so adjusting to new ways of transportation takes time to learn. 

Young said that one way in which London and San Diego feel similar is that they are both large and diverse cities. London’s population is around 8.9 million, whereas San Diego has 1.3 million inhabitants. Additionally, both have different foods, unique places to visit and beautiful views. 

“Almost half of the population isn’t even from the UK so there is so much culture to indulge in. Plus, it’s a city just full of a lot of great history and museums,” Young said.

Megan Roper is a third-year international studies major spending her semester in Prague, Czech Republic. Through Cultural Experiences Abroad, she is taking a class at the Anglo-American University and has an internship through CEA while abroad. 

Before arriving, Roper said that she was most concerned with the cultural differences and language barriers in her internship. However, she was pleasantly surprised after coming to Prague.

“So far the language barrier hasn’t been hard to navigate and I am even learning some basic Czech on my own time and from the Czech people I meet,” Roper said.

For Roper, many things between Prague and San Diego are different, including the language, city life and weather. 

“Czech people are very stoic and look like they have hard exteriors, but they really are sweet people who are very attentive to the people around them,” Roper said.

Although the city Roper is living in for the next few months is extremely different from what she is used to, she said that she is very happy with her decision to study abroad. 

Roper said that Prague is a great city to navigate and an easy journey away from other European countries. 

“My favorite part about Prague is the beautiful architecture and historical context of the world that often goes unrecognized,” Roper said.

Second-year business major Ali Jackman is studying at Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, Italy through the SAI program. The nine-hour time difference between her friends and family in San Diego was her biggest concern before flying into southern Italy, since she wanted to be able to find time to talk to her loved ones.

Additionally, with Italian being the national language, there is a language barrier for Jackman; however, in her experience, many people also speak English.

“It was definitely overwhelming at first because my Italian is not good at all but you have to be okay with sounding funny at times,” Jackman said.

Jackman’s experience with culture shock is more food-focused than anything else. She said that she was prepared for many things that Italy has to offer that are different from California, such as language, transportation and city life, but the biggest shock was how fresh and healthy the meals are.

“In Sorrento, there is no fast food and all of the produce here is much more fresh than in the states,” Jackman said. “Italians definitely view food differently than I am used to which has been really refreshing.”

For those interested in study abroad, programs visit the study abroad office at https://www.pointloma.edu/offices/study-abroad-office.

Written By: Madelyn Walthall