Culture Shock and Teaching

Hi everyone! I’m currently reading Jon L. Smythe’s book Shifting the Kaleidoscope which is research about culture shock and reverse culture shock as learning experiences for educators. Culture shock can have many meanings, but as argued by Smythe (2015) “involves the realization that one’s own meaning and value systems are not shared universally” (p.35). I think that culture shock can be experienced in many ways – whether it’s living abroad, moving from a small town to city, or having a very diverse classroom with students who do not share the same cultural background as you. Culture shock also had different forms, which can involve language, values, beliefs and food.


Culture shock has been modeled through different stages – one hypothetical model by Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) presents a W model of culture shock (See Above – taken from Swallow (2010)). This model has been applied to many students who study abroad, and Smythe (2015) looks at this through a teachers perspective.

So how can experiencing culture shock influence teachers view and practice?

Firstly, it’s important to note that culture shock can have very negative influences on individuals – perhaps making them more prejudice against a host culture. Being “the other” can cause a lot of anxiety in teachers. However, this also provides a lot of opportunity for growth and learning. From the studies I’ve read, many students highlight that overcoming culture shock made them stronger individuals. It’s very interesting to read the teachers stories and experiences of culture shock. Here are some themes I found in the stories:

  • Developing empathy and caring through experiencing vulnerability (especially related to language learning and communication).
  • Realization of cultural differences, especially related to materialism and individualism in Western society.
  • Discovering differences in pedagogy between cultures (rote memorization was found in many cultures and creativity was not encouraged).
  • Discovering differences in school systems (including some where corruption was involved).
  • Learning strategies to overcome culture shock and subsequently sharing this with international students who are trying to adjust to American culture.

There are multiple things that can be gained from experiencing culture shock and it clearly is dependent on on one’s own culture and personality as well as the international experience. Perhaps the biggest gain from studying abroad is getting to experience being “the other”. This really develops one’s empathy for students in your classroom who may have come from a different country or may just feel like they don’t belong.

I enjoyed reading teacher’s stories on their abroad experiences! It makes me excited for my upcoming teaching across borders trip to Germany. As well, I’m excited to interview teachers and gain more insight from their experiences.    


Gullahorn, J. T. and Gullahorn, J. E. (1963), An Extension of the U‐Curve Hypothesis. Journal of Social Issues, 19: 33-47. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1963.tb00447.x

Hanson, A. E. S., & Dracos, M. J. (2016). Motivation and technology use during second-language study abroad in the digital age. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 2(Special Issue), 64–84.

Smythe, J. (2015). Shifting the kaleidoscope: returned peace corps volunteer educators’ insights on culture shock, identity & pedagogy, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Swallow, D. (2010). The classic 5 stage culture shock model.

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