Study abroad in the UK

Studying Abroad and the Phenomenon of Culture Shock

Attending a university or college is an enriching, purposeful experience for young people. It always has been. Although very common and almost necessary for the average young adult these days, there are many ways to even further enhance your experience. Student life is full of taking chances, learning to grow up and discover new values as a person. It tests a student’s independence and willingness to work in the real world. It is a stressful time, too, but what about changing up the usual routine of one campus for four to six years? Studying abroad from a home country has been popular for decades. Here, we’ll go through what this experience away from home really entails and how research has depicted its success and challenges for students. Plus, read on to discover some of the most culture enriching and beautiful places to study in the world.

A Phenomenological Investigation

There have been studies and research done on the phenomenon of culture shock. Culture shock occurs when individuals become immersed in a culture different from their own (comes from Westwood, Lawrence, & Paul, 1960). There are various intensities to this psychological and physical feeling people experience. However, in an article by Victoria Christofi and Charles L. Thompson from 2007 takes on a different research approach to answer more questions about culture shock. Their article titled, You Cannot Go Home Again: A Phenomenological Investigation of Returning to the Sojourn Country After Studying Abroad describes the structure of the experience of individuals who returned home after studying abroad. Like, when they become disillusioned with their home country and return to their home country. They act to investigate a deeper, more detailed investigation on participants using quantitative and qualitative methods.

There is the notion that travelers who adapt well to the host culture experience end up changing their values, attitudes, behaviors, ideas and perceptions. They then must adapt these new changes to their home culture, which is a difficult process. The longer they stay in the host culture, the more difficult the reentry process will be. Christofi and Thompson suggest that the processes of acculturation to a new culture and re-acculturation to one’s home culture are characterized by a sense of loss of familiar cues. There are three major differences between the two processes:

  1. People expect cultural differences and a certain amount of shock and adjustment, but not such expectations exist on returning to the home culture
  2. Student sojourners go abroad at an age where they are creating and adapting to their core values, general lifestyles and beliefs. When students travel during this period in their life, they later find that they are out of step with their former culture
  3. Sojourners are not always aware of those changes that were made while being away. They only do realize when they return home and then face the challenge of readjusting to their previous culture.

So, why travel at all?

The core adjustments and possible disconnect from yourself and your home country may not seem worth it for some to consider studying abroad. But, there is a reason it has become a very popular experience for post-secondary students. While going through these changes in their host culture, students easily discover new ways of living. It goes without saying that every place in the world can offer new judgments and outlooks on life which is beneficial in of itself. The personal gain from experiencing different cultures is the best way to truly learn how to understand and appreciate others. In a world of hate and crime, this simple notion of accepting to learn that not every culture is the same or that one culture is never above another is the most humble and inclusive thing to learn while travelling.

When people immerse themselves in another culture or country, they encounter diversity and novelty. This can be confused as equaling a state of disequilibrium because societal structures are different from the schemes they used in their home country. Equilibrium is being the state of balance and pleasure. And according to research done by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, travelling abroad for a period of time can alter this state of feeling because of the challenges that come with it. Still, it is important to note that proactive people provide themselves with internal validation and are able to see the uniqueness of being bi-cultural. The processes of disequilibrium are not permanent, and can be overlooked despite the initial cues of its invasion with socialization and safety of finding comfort. Studying abroad is not for those who cannot accept these facts. It is not a vacation getaway, as much as it may seem like one at times. The psychological interference with how one will experience their time away from home can affect the overall trip!

Where You Go Makes a Difference

It always depends on the program of study when deciding where to participate in a student exchange or semester abroad. Not all countries or cities will be available to choose from, making it tough to isolate which host university or college is the best fit. With COVID halting many travel plans for people, the urge to do any sort of trip away from home is strong–almost anywhere could satisfy. However, here are some great options in general to think of:

Francedecoractive image of Paris

Each region of France is as distinct as its wine, this is a country of wonderful cuisine, culture, fashion and sights. According to many sources which rank cities and countries of the world to study at, France is always in the top 10. Depending on where students come from, it can be a big jump culturally from their home country. The European lifestyle is rich and offers amazing opportunities for visitors. Think about the free time one may have that could lead to a short train ride to the North of Italy, Switzerland or Spain for the weekend. Although living in France could be pricey, there are cities that rank lower in cost of living. Paris it the most popular for tourists for its ambience and romantic scenery, but other cities like Lyon, Versailles and Lille are cheaper alternatives to the country’s capital.


Streets of Copenhagen Denmark

With such high quality of life and overall happy people, Denmark marks the next great candidate for a study trip. With the official language being Danish and only about 5.8 million in population, the country holds an open mindset for University students. According to, they cater to 34,000 international students out of 150,000 total university students. This is a place that like France, is practically always on a top 10 list for best places to study.

Denmark operates within the Nordic model, which combines free market capitalism with generous social welfare programs. With their education model, Danish universities promote personal initiative and problem-based learning. This combines traditional learning lectures with industrial placements. It allows for practical application of studies and this prepares students very well for the working world. Even just one semester studying here can benefit a student’s learning experience during their years of achieving a degree.


Kookmin University Study Abroad

With over 370 official higher education providers in total, South Korea has plenty to offer interested students. The lifestyle consists of fun game rooms, nightlife, all kinds of socialization and a variety of fashion discoveries. Asia can be a huge step away from home for some, which may be intimidating. However, if you’re looking for a real burst of culture exploration, South Korea is known to be vibrant in distinct cultural experiences. In comparison to other developed countries, Seoul does not have sky-high cost of living expenses. The average one-bedroom apartment could run you only about $400 USD a month!

The three SKY Universities in South Korea

The choices of universities starts with the three SKY Universities. These are high-education institutions that look “best” on resumes in comparison to other average schools in the country. Attending one of these schools contribute to an elite persona while staying in Seoul, which creates a unique experience on campus. Of course, it all depends on the program of study when deciding which university to attend.


University of Queensland

Another great option is Australia. With nine distinctive regions and twenty UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House, it is a country of true exploration. For some, it may be intimidating for its seclusion as an island compared to countries in Europe or Asia, but if you’re one for big change and distant destinations, this could be your spot. According to, Australia ranks third in the world for access to higher quality education, and boasts a number of top universities in the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

In terms of cultural differences, Australia is quite multicultural with a wide range of cultural ethnicities, with one third of the population having been born overseas. Still, you cannot overlook the general Australian accent, which to some is quite difficult to understand. There is an obvious slang to their conversation, and this is a factor of adjustment that exchange students should take in before moving there. In the end, there are a multitude of schools to choose from that could land you close to the epic waters or residing inland with wonderful entertainment and city life experience.


image of Vancouver, popular place to study
Vancouver, Canada

Sharing a continent with the USA and Mexico is a country with untouched natural beauty, northern atmosphere and the top ranking for best place to study two years in a row. Canadian universities are known for their technological innovations, especially in the fields of computer and information technologies. The prices of tuition are cheaper compared to its rivals like the UK and USA. The only downer would be living expenses, depending on where you would stay. Cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary are pretty up-there in cost of living, with a one bedroom apartment running renters anywhere between $1400 to $2200 a month (Canadian currency). This can be a pricey adjustment for international students if their budget is small. However, the education system and vibrant cities can be worth the expenses, especially buzzing places like Toronto. If the city life is not necessarily for you, there are many more options more up north in less populated areas that have access to skiing trails, vast wilderness and mountain based hiking trails.


Ranked #1 in Europe, Germany guarantees world class education for all students. International students can benefit from the country’s FREE undergraduate programs, regardless of EU citizenship. Germany is home to over 80 million people – as well as a diverse array of religions, customs, and traditions that make up the rich national psyche. In terms of the culture, German people tend to be thrifty, be sensible, and respect one another’s privacy. They have a great appreciation for tradition and family with ‘strict’ rules to follow per neighbourhood. It is said that in order to achieve great order and punctuality, German neighbourhoods take rules and polite etiquette seriously. This is not Vegas or Ibiza! But, this makes many cities wonderful places to focus on studies. Of course, there are many extra curricular things to do besides school: many locals take up hiking a mountain or enjoying a beer in a bohemian bar.

german beer
Click the image for an article on 10 Popular German Beers to Know!

United States of America

This feels like an obvious option if students are considering IVY league education. Top Tier schools like Harvard, Yale or Princeton become part of the conversation when the USA is involved in international learning. There is a reason the States is a very popular choice! This is a country of endless possibilities in terms of the types of environment you would wish to study and live in. Every state has its own ambience and character.

However, some say it is on the more expensive side compared to other host countries. While Germany offers unbelievable deals for students that leave a lot of room for other living expenses, the USA does not. The average cost annually is $21,000 USD for public college. The average cost for a private non-for profit college is $47,000 USD. These numbers can make a huge impact on a student’s wallet, making it a necessary thing to consider when looking at American programs of study. This does vary, on the program, though. Still, this is a country of opportunity with pop-culture surrounding many cities and incredible sight seeing to be done!

The United Kingdom

Ranked second in the best places to study abroad in Europe is The United Kingdom. Coming from an English speaking background helps when deciding where to go, but the UK is not like Canada or America. Just like Australia, the lingo is very distinct and in every part of the country there is a new dialect to learn. The culture shock may not be as grave as going from an English-speaking country to a country like South Korea or France, but there will still be plenty of change.

england as a place to study abroad
The historical structures and attributes of the UK are an intriguing sight to see

The UK is simply known for their amazing academics. Almost every city hosts a university, and undergraduates are often exposed to lectures and topics that they wouldn’t find at home. The class expectations are high.

It is difficult to discuss some general cultural expectations for temporarily moving to the UK because each region has its own set of standards and style. Scotland, Whales, England and Ireland all make up this part of Europe. The best thing to note of it all is how many other places in the UK are definitely worthy of going above London. Many think London, England is the Paris of the UK, and yes, it is a very popular city, but it is always expensive. All in all, everywhere an international student would go will need to know three things: a) It’s part of the culture for British students to drink, but there are also those that drink and “chunder” so be weary! b) politics is almost always a topic of discussion and c) watch some soccer! (correction–futbol)

End Note

Culture shock is real, and in a young adult’s developing years as a student, this can be a difficult thing to overcome all at once. Yet, the concept of leaving home for a short period of time to explore a new lifestyle shows an abundance of benefits. Once you shy away from the possibility of being homesick, there is a good chance you may never want to return home! Travelling is a wonderful personal growth opportunity for people. Killing two birds with one stone (degree plus travel) could be the best way to do it.

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