Welcome to our online tool « learning from culture shocks in Higher Education”. This learning tool was created for students, faculty and staff of higher education institutions who are in some way involved with international mobility: students who are planning or living international mobility and staff who are welcoming or preparing students for such an experience. It can be used as an autonomous learning tool or as inspiration for preparing on-arrival or pre-departure workshops for students in international mobility. The tool is created by the team of the SOLVINC Erasmus+ project.
Culture shocks in Higher Education?
Many students may experience attending University itself as a series of culture shocks, in particular those whose parents don’t have university diplomas, or members of different cultural minorities, students who moved from rural areas to cities, etc. Facing a different relationship amongst students and teachers, a different approach towards learning, discipline, knowledge may become the source of surprises and tensions.
If culture shocks could happen to anyone, here we have a slightly narrower scope: we focus on culture shocks resulting from international student mobility, for whom differences in national cultures are added to the challenges of mobility. .
Why focus on “culture shocks”?
The concept of “culture shock” may sound dramatic at first, we may even feel compelled to refuse the idea altogether as it may suggest we are exaggerating or reifying cultural difference and putting the blame on the people with different cultural references. In contrast to this perspective we see “culture shock” or its equivalent “critical incident” as a privileged learning opportunity. Indeed, at the encounter between people with different cultural reference frames the contrast makes visible norms and representations that we could have assumed “normal” or “natural”. In short culture shock helps us become aware and get rid of the illusion of cultural neutrality and homogeneity. Critical incidents can also give visibility to systemic oppressions and inequalities. By helping to understand their impacts on the people who live them and inciting to investigate on the frame of references of the people exhibiting forms of prejudice and discrimination, the critical incidents can contribute to our fight against inequalities.
What can we learn from the culture shocks of others?
The most effective learning experience comes from the analysis of culture shocks that we experienced. However, we can also learn from the experiences of other people. First of all because we may have experienced similar critical incidents, where the same cultural values, norms or representations are questioned and threatened. Second, through reading the analysed critical incidents we can train our mind to conceive the basic duplicity: that the norms and values and representations of the narrators are different from those of the other people triggering the shock. None of them is “more real” or “more just” than the other: these are usually two alternative ways of conceiving the world and creating order in it. Such curiosity towards understanding both sides of the story should not be confused with a posture of extreme cultural relativism and a laissez-faire attitude. To the contrary, a better understanding of both sides should help to take more appropriate steps in solving the conflicts. Most importantly, the method should not be used as a excuse to condone manifestations of systemic oppressions, racism, inequality.
Whose culture shocks?
The incidents were collected from students and faculty in the following Universities: Spoleczna Akademia Nauk (University of Social Sciences), University of Porto, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, University of Vienna and finally several French Universities whose students or faculty have collaborated with élan interculturel.
How to use this tool?
Each image is a window on a specific subject matter, a so-called “sensitive zone” in the context of international mobility in Higher Education. By entering such a door, you can read the analysed culture shock experiences that were collected from students and from University staff members. By clicking on “to go deeper” you will have access to background theory about the specific sensitive zone. If you wish, you can also search our database using the search boxes on the top right corner. You can choose incidents collected in a specific partner country (Austria, France, Germany, Poland, Portugal), or incidents that happen in a specific situation (for instance: plenary class session, cafeteria etc.). For further information on the method we used, please check out our Reader “Culture Shocks in Higher Education”.