Global Travelers and Culture Shock

2013 Global Travel Scholar Josh Patton atop Machu Picchu in Peru.
2013 Global Travel Scholar, Josh Patton, atop Machu Picchu in Peru.

2014 Global Travel Scholars

All of us here at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh are pleased to announce we will be sending five students abroad as part of our Global Travel Scholarship program. This scholarship program, managed in partnership with the Experiment in International Living, provides an opportunity for local high school juniors to travel to foreign countries. Focus is placed on those who would ordinarily never have this chance.  Whether it is trekking to Machu Picchu in Peru or learning how to draw anime in Japan, for the past decade Global Travel Scholars have been leaving behind the comforts of home to experience firsthand the joys and challenges of living abroad.

This year’s selection process was especially rigorous, as each participating school was only able to nominate one candidate.  Starting with 35 nominated students, five scholars were selected to participate in the program. Through the generous financial support of regional foundations, corporations, and individuals, the Global Travel Scholars will spend three to five weeks this summer living in Brazil, Spain, Botswana, Tanzania, or Japan.

Let’s meet the 2014 Global Travel Scholars:

Edgar Bahena, a junior at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, has a strong interest in science and music which drew him to choose Brazil, whose culture is ripe with musical diversity and new scientific avenues.  He is eager to discover what opportunities he will find that align with his growing interests.

James Burke, Jr, a junior at The Kiski School, will be traveling to Spain to immerse himself in Spanish culture while practicing the language in an intensive program.  As Vice President of the Culture Pot, a school club that embraces cultural diversity, he is looking forward to having the opportunity to go abroad to experience a new culture firsthand.  He sees this as an opportunity to grow as a leader in his community.

Tessa Houser, an already active volunteer in her community and a junior at Quaker Valley High School, is ready to embark on her next community service project in Tanzania. Tessa is delighted to have the chance to learn and experience new activities and perspectives to enhance her already active life.  She sees this as a way to open doors for her future.

Matthew McDonald, a junior at Fort Cherry Senior High School, will be spending five weeks in the rural and urban areas of Botswana.  A very active member of his community, he is overjoyed to be able to enhance his understanding of the world to become a stronger, more insightful leader in the future.

Raheem Perry, a junior at Imani Christian Academy, is an avid artist and cartoon creator who will be joining fellow enthusiasts this summer in Japan.  He is very excited to improve his self-taught skills in the hope of achieving his dream of one day becoming an entrepreneur in publishing.

Please join us in congratulating these students on such a tremendous accomplishment!


Adjusting to Culture Shock

Before leaving for their respective countries all of the scholars participate in various pre-departure workshops to prepare them for their time abroad. A theme discussed throughout these workshops is culture shock. These feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed and frustrated in a new country are common among many of us who travel internationally. Whether you are traveling for an extended period of time like our Global Travel Scholars, or planning a brief two-week vacation with the family, chances are you’ll experience some form of culture shock.

culture shock

Research shows that culture shock comes in four stages and can be experienced both when traveling abroad and upon your return home. These stages include:

  1. Honeymoon Stage: Everything is new and exciting during the first few days or weeks.
  2. Frustration Stage: People experience difficulty sleeping, sadness, homesickness, overeating, unexplained crying, exhaustion, or a desire to withdraw.
  3. Adjustment Stage: Travelers become familiar and comfortable with their surroundings, culture, people, food, and host language.  They will be better able to handle situations they once found frustrating. 
  4. Acceptance Stage: Travelers will be able to compare the good and bad of the host country to the good and bad of their own country.  They will begin to feel less like foreigners and their host country will begin to feel more like a second home.

How you manage culture shock can greatly influence your entire travel experience. If you find yourself in a situation where the culture shock is difficult to manage, think of different ways to connect with the area and the people around you. Here are some tips:

  • Take some time to explore the area, try new foods, or take part in a cultural activity.  This is also a great time to make new friends.
  • Reach out to your fellow travel mates, discuss any frustrations, or spend a few moments by yourself to write down what you are experiencing.  Ask questions to clarify any cultural confusion that may be frustrating you.
  • Take time to make friends with the locals. Start to go outside of your comfort zone or explore and learn new cultural traditions and languages.
  • Take the time to strengthen bonds with the people you have become close with, take part in as many new experiences as possible, and remember to engage and have fun!

Parents can help too. For those who have children traveling abroad this summer, see this resource on helping your child adjust to culture shock.

These are easy tips that can make all the difference in your international experiences.

Congratulations again to our Global Travel Scholars, and best of luck to everyone traveling abroad this summer!