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Cultural Shock

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Traveling overseas for the first time, coupled with a 24 hour journey can be quite hectic, stressful and even cause anxiety – no matter how much preparation you have done. Some students might have prior travel experience from different countries but the Ugandan or East African experience might be nothing like what you have experienced or expected – it’s most likely to be far from what you have read about or watched on TV, they never do us justice. East Africa is simply unique, different and special!

If you have done your homework well, you should know that you are coming to a developing country where things are likely to be a little different from the comfort of your home. Some roads may have potholes, the food is likely to be different, slower internet speeds, time keeping isn’t the same (sometimes) and no one seems to understand what you are saying the first time round – speak a little slower! It’s these unique experiences, adversity and challenges that make the whole trip worthwhile and life-changing. Students get to experience firsthand the struggles and challenges of others and also observe a new and different culture. It’s through this immersion that cultural understanding, global awareness and self-discovery emerges. However, it may come at a price!

Although most of our programs are short-term, interactive and engaging, cultural shock is something we do not take lightly. Culture shock is when you become overwhelmed by uncomfortable or confusing surroundings. Some effects can be physical, like headaches, and other effects are psychological, like feeling sad. It may be one thing in particular that makes you uneasy, or a whole host of new sights, sounds and tastes that aren’t what you’re used to. The good news is that not everyone experiences culture shock, and if you do there are easy ways to overcome it and become more comfortable no matter where you choose to study.

How to deal with cultural shock

Local customs

When you first arrive abroad you may be jet-lagged and tired from the journey, which can add to a ge

neral feeling of culture shock as you try to understand your new surroundings. People may not be speaking a language you know, or it may be particularly loud and hectic, and you may feel anxious as a result. Researching what to expect from any country you’re thinking about studying in is a good way to know if it’ll be right for you. Try to find out the cultural dos and don’ts or attitudes that may be different from your home country. Knowing these in advance can help you start processing anything that might shock you.


You may find that the food in the country you’re studying in is not to your taste. Often the types of cuisine you’ve become accustomed to for breakfast, lunch and dinner won’t be the same in other parts of the world. When the food on offer is particularly unappealing to you it can be difficult to feel comfortable and healthy. It’s best to give the new cuisine a try rather than av

oid it altogether, and you may find yourself with a new favorite food. Take a stroll around grocery stores or markets to get a clearer idea of what food is readily available and how best to cook it. If you’re in the mood for some comfort food, see if there’s anything similar to what you’d have at home to cook in your accommodation.


One of the first things you’ll notice in Uganda is the traffic and the driving. It’s usually the first thing that will catch your eye from the airport. The driving in Uganda is different but you’ll get used to it by the second or third day. You’ll have so many stories to tell and pictures to take about the Ugandan road experience. Ugandans “keep left” on the road which might be different than where you are from. The boda-bodas are also quite overwhelming – all this might be a little too much to handle initially. You’ll be fine – you won’t have to use any public means for travel.

Talk to someone about your experience

If you don’t know how something works or how to do something in your new country, then ask people. You’ll be surrounded by other students experiencing similar culture shock and confusion, or you can talk to people you live within student accommodation. Both will be willing to help and make your time studying abroad easier. Friends and family from home will be keen to talk to you about your new study abroad adventure, so catch up with them regularly on the phone or with video calling. Talk about the things you love about the new country as well as the things that you’re not so fond of. Your university or on-ground program coordinator is also there to support you. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed by any situation it’s important to talk to them about how you’re feeling.

Adapted from

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