Overcoming Culture Shock

It’s been almost three months now that I’ve been living in Seville and it’s crazy to think that I’m a little over halfway done with my time abroad! Before leaving for Spain I was told that I would experience culture shock.

*Just some quick background info for you: I am a first-generation Brazilian-American, meaning I was the first in my family to be born in the States. Therefore, the majority of my family still resides in Brazil.*

I have been to Brazil to visit my family more times than I can count. In Brazil my family’s living condition is less than ideal and they’ve occupied the same area in the state of Maranhão for over seventy years. With that being said, I have experienced what life is like living in a developing country to the fullest extent and because of that I didn’t think I would experience culture shock while living in Spain. Well, I was wrong.

Personally, culture shock consisted of not understanding the WHY behind certain cultural norms; WHY don’t people put their trays away at coffee shops? WHY do Spaniards eat so late? WHY is everything closed on Sundays?

Asking WHY is the first step to digesting culture shock. The second step to digesting culture shock is actively searching for the BECAUSE.

Simply complaining about a minor inconvenience you experience is not going to help you adjust OR understand the culture. If you truly want to be a “cultured individual” you have to be willing to accept what you cannot change. I had to stop looking at my experiences through an ethnocentric lense, and start looking at them through the eyes of a native. Once I did so, these differences no longer seemed distant to me and quickly became things I expected and welcomed into my life. I became comfortable with the idea of others leaving their trays on the table. I got used to the concept of late meals (and started snacking throughout the day). I made every Sunday my homework day. I adapted.

Everyone experiences culture shock to some extent while studying abroad, and being able to navigate all of the new experiences and emotions that you encounter will help you in the long run.

How do you overcome culture shock, you ask? You have to stop asking WHY and start asking WHY NOT.




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