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. The tool is created by the team of the SOLVINC Erasmus+ project.
Culture shocks in Higher Education?
Many first-year students may experience attending University itself as a series of culture shocks: a different relationship amongst students and teachers, a different approach towards learning, discipline, knowledge may be at the source of surprises and tensions.
In here we have a slightly narrower scope: we focus on culture shocks resulting from international student mobility, that is the experiences of students studying abroad.
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.
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.
Whose culture shocks?
The incidents were collected from students and faculty in the following Universities: Universidade do Porto, Spoleczna Akademia Nauk, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Universität Wien 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. If you wish, you can also search our database using the search boxes on the top right corner. You can choose incidents where protagonists of specific nationalities are involved, or incidents that happen in a specific situation (for instance: plenary class session, cafeteria etc.).