While You Are Abroad

Students abroad may have questions about their time abroad, culture shock, and the process of returning to CSU after their program. Answers to many questions can be found in the resources below.

Cultural Adjustment

The process of adapting to life in a new culture is commonly referred to as “culture shock.” It is important to understand that this process is quite real, very normal, and is an important part of the education abroad experience. For most people there are four phases to the education abroad experience consisting of highs and lows. By being aware of and able to identify them, you will hopefully find it easier to cope with the challenges each stage provides.

Stages of Cultural Adjustment

STAGE #1: Initial Euphoria

After the stress of deciding where to have an education abroad and completing what feels like a ton of paperwork, you prepare to leave. There is the anticipation of spending time in a new country mixed with the sadness of leaving family and friends. You find yourself stepping off the plane and into a new place. Everything seems different, new, and exciting. The language is different, the food is interesting, the buildings are charming, and everything is wonderful, the “perfect” place. This is the first phase of many new experiences, excitement and adoration. This is a wonderful phase that makes you feel great and is the perfect way to start your time abroad.

STAGE #2: Irritability and Hostility

After about three to six weeks the things you may have found exciting and wonderful begin to appear as more of a problem. The language is a challenge and sometimes translation can be tiring, you long for familiar food and you decide that the charming building doesn’t have all the conveniences you are accustomed to at home. You have developed “culture shock” — the reaction people feel when they move for an extended period into a culture that is different from their own. Culture shock has two features: It results from the experience of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving or valuing things that threaten your basic, unconscious belief that your ways are “right.” It is cumulative, building slowly from a series of small events that are difficult to identify.

STAGE #3: Culture Shock

Culture shock comes from the following circumstances:

  • Being cut off from the cultural cues and patterns that you are familiar with.
  • Living or studying over an extended period of time in a situation that is ambiguous.
  • Having your own values brought into question.
  • Being expected to work at full speed in a situation where the rules have not been adequately explained.

If you decide to write home during this phase you may want to write the email and file it rather than hitting the send key. Re-read the letter in a few days and see if you still feel the same. Often the problem has disappeared and your feelings have changed. This method often avoids upsetting your family unnecessarily. Expressing your feelings in a journal, to a friend on your program, or to your program director often helps put things in perspective.

STAGE #4: Adaptation or Bi-Culturalism

The final stage comes when the differences are narrowed down to a few of the most troubling. You have adjusted to these differences and may not want to go home. You have made friends and may feel that your language skills are really just beginning to develop as you had hoped. You are not sure you want to trade the excitement of living abroad for the routine of home. You know you have changed, but wonder if your friends at home have changed. You look forward to seeing family and friends and catching up on events.

Tips for Surviving Cultural Adjustment

So you are feeling tired all the time, both physically from trying to understand the language, customs and a myriad of unfamiliar daily tasks; and emotionally, because as hard as you try to reach out and connect, you realize that you will never really be one of the locals. Disappointment can set in. Suddenly, the food is inadequate, the facilities aren’t clean enough, people are abrupt, and the bureaucracy is relentless.

These symptoms are signs that you know enough about the culture to recognize the differences. Now is the time to use some proven techniques to help yourself through the culture shock and into the next stage of adaptation and enjoyment.

  • Acknowledge that culture shock is normal and will pass
  • Write about your concerns in a journal and sleep on them before you call home or act on your grievances
  • Keep busy and set some concrete goals; resist withdrawing into yourself or surrounding yourself with U.S. citizens
  • Avoid being judgmental; look on the positive side of diversity and difference
  • Take care of yourself with enough sleep and exercise
  • Revive your sense of humor

Remember that you are the visitor; you are there to learn about a new culture, not to change it. Prior to leaving the U.S. spend some time finding out about the country you will visit. Think about the:

  • political structure and situation
  • geography and history
  • religion
  • social structure
  • the country’s relationship with the U.S.

What’s Up with Culture is a resource guide for study abroad and consists of materials collected and developed over 30 years of offering cross-cultural training courses at the University of the Pacific. The site also includes materials adapted from the Peace Corps Workbook.

Health & Safety Issues

CSU Emergency Contact Information from Abroad

Office of International Programs
Tel: +00 1 (970) 491-5917
Fax: +00 1 (970) 491-5501
E-mail: educationabroad@colostate.edu

Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (MST)
(Summer Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

For emergencies after hours please contact the
CSU Police Department: +00 1 (970) 491-6425

Locating a Physician While Traveling Abroad

If you find yourself in a situation where you require a physician, you are not on your host campus, and you are not fluent in the language of the country, contact one of the following for a list of doctors/dentists who speak English: the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, a large travel agency such as Thomas Cook or American Express, or go to the front desk of a large hotel.

When it comes to your health you do not want a communication breakdown so be sure to seek an English-speaking doctor/dentist. U.S. Department of State Resource for Doctors/Hospitals Abroad

Sex and AIDS

By taking certain precautions, you may reduce the risk of getting the AIDS virus. Here are some general precautions against AIDS you can follow regardless of where you are in the world:

  • Avoid exchange of semen, blood, or vaginal fluids with anyone. Either abstain from sexual activity or practice safe sex.
  • Use a condom. Both men and women should carry their own condoms. You may have trouble finding reliable brands of condoms abroad; some countries may not even sell condoms.
  • Use water-based lubricants/jellies containing a spermicide in addition to a condom during vaginal and anal intercourse.
  • Do not use illicit drugs. Do not use needles and syringes that may have been used previously.

Excerpt from the brochure Travel Safe: Aids and International Travel produced by CIEE. Additional information is available from the Centers for Disease Control.

Safety Abroad

Travel to another country is not inherently dangerous; the fact of the matter is that the U.S. citizen will encounter few countries that are as dangerous as is home, if one looks simply at the crime rate and particularly the rate of violent crime. However, no matter where you go, you inevitably stand out as a stranger, a “tourist,” and therefore as a mark to the local criminal. You cannot rely on your seemingly instinctual knowledge of danger, of what is permissible, of what is and isn’t asking for trouble, as you do at home.

Personal Safety
  • Your behavior and the choices you make play a large role in your personal safety.
  • Do not walk alone at night; always travel in pairs or larger groups. In large cities, this may also be true during the day.
  • Wear clothing appropriate to the location. Example: In some cultures shorts are very inappropriate, as are bare arms. Know the culture of the country and conform to it. You are there to experience another culture, not to change it.
  • Do not give money to beggars. They may not be satisfied with the amount you give them and may demand more by using force. It may also encourage other beggars to approach you.
  • Do not carry large amounts of visible cash and do not place anything valuable in your waist pack or backpack. (See next item) Wear your waist pack in front of you where you can see it and hook the straps through your belt loops.
  • Important documents such as passport, travel documents, traveler’s checks, money, credit cards should be kept in a money belt or neck wallet under your clothing to keep them out of the reach of a pickpocket. If your money belt is difficult for you to access, it will also be difficult for a thief to get. Keep small amounts of money in a more accessible place so you don’t have to go into your money belt or neck wallet for cash for a soda. You do not want to display your cash or valuable papers any more than necessary.
  • It is best to limit the number of credit cards you carry and to keep a list of your card number(s) and the company(s) phone number. Leave a copy at home in the U.S. If you lose the card(s) you or your designated representative can call the company to report the loss.
  • We know you have heard it before, but DON’T hitchhike. You know the consequences and they can be deadly.
  • Remember that one of the major crimes is robbery, which sometimes becomes assault. Think about things you might do to avoid being a victim and what you might do if you are robbed.

Remember, your life is worth far more than anything you have. If need be, throw your stuff away from you and run in the opposite direction. Scream, act out a seizure, act out of control, throw-up, cause a scene, do whatever you need to do to draw attention to the situation and to get to a safe place.

The U.S. Department of State Citizen’s Emergency Center offers the following advice to travelers:

  • Never take anything with you that you can’t afford to lose.
  • Be aware and alert; stop, look and listen, then ask questions or speak up.
  • Never leave you pack or baggage unattended, ever, even for a moment.
  • Keep your “street smarts” about you. Avoid demonstrations, trust your instincts and move away from uncomfortable situations.
  • Positively identify individuals before you allow them into hotel rooms.
  • Refuse to carry packages across borders or through customs
  • Learn how to use local phones and report emergencies.
  • Carry your valuable documents on your body and pack photocopies of all of them in a separate pack or luggage.


  • We recommend that you register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate when you arrive in the country. Should you need their assistance at any time, they will be familiar with your name.
  • If you are living with a host family, find out how host families are screened and what the procedures are for dealing with problems. Get several phone numbers to call in the event there is a problem that occurs during non-office hours.
  • If at any time you feel physically threatened, contact the international office of the host campus or the program representative and make arrangements to leave immediately. If you cannot get in touch with someone immediately, you may want to stay with a friend or stay in a hotel for the evening until you can visit the office in the morning.
  • Also, email the CSU Education Abroad Office to let us know what is happening. We will do all we can to help ensure your safety.
  • Find out which staff member on site is responsible for safety, health and security and find out what procedures are in place to handle emergencies.
  • Ask about health and safety standards applied to providers of transportation, tours, cultural programs and housing.
  • Find out where the fire exits are in your classroom buildings and residence. Many countries in the world do not have the same fire codes as the United States. You may want to consider bringing a battery-operated smoke detector with you for use in your bedroom.


  • Carry your own luggage; don’t let a stranger carry it or it may get carried off. Never put your luggage in the trunk of a car, you may need to get out of the car quickly.
  • Important documents such as passport, travel documents, traveler’s checks, money, credit cards should be kept in a money belt or neck wallet under your clothing to keep them out of the reach of a pickpocket. If your money belt is difficult for you to access, it will also be difficult for a thief to get. Keep small amounts of money in a more accessible place so you don’t have to go into your money belt or neck wallet for cash for a soda. You do not want to display your cash or valuable papers any more than necessary.
  • Know the people you are traveling with and always leave your itinerary and your approximate time of return with a friend or your host family. In any big city, women should not walk alone at night.
  • If a situation feels uncomfortable stay calm and think of ways you can get out and away from the area. This might be by hailing a taxi or getting into a more public area.
  • Insurance that covers theft may be available through your homeowners insurance. Check with your insurance provider.
  • Pay attention to any travel advice given by your program director or sponsor. If s/he recommends that you not travel alone or in a particular part of the country — pay attention. Any restrictions on travel are only made with your safety in mind.
Natural Disaster

Some countries experience natural disasters that you may not have encountered in the past, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tornados, or hurricanes. If any of these commonly occur in your program location, check with your director or international office to determine what safety procedures should be followed in case of natural disaster, and if there are any advance warning signals. If a natural disaster should occur, please contact your family, program director, international office, and our office as soon as you are able to do so to let us know you are safe. If possible, e-mail the CSU Education Abroad Office or call 001 (970) 491-5917.

Political Unrest

If you are in a politically unstable country, avoid crowds. You could find yourself in the middle of a protest or other event that could become dangerous. Keep in touch with your program director, the international office at your university, and the OIP at CSU. Check the U.S.Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet for current conditions in your host country.

Women Abroad

Unfortunately, thanks to popular films and television shows broadcast around the globe, the stereotype of American women as sexually promiscuous has made its way through much of the world. Because of this conception, you may unwittingly find yourself the object of unwanted attention abroad, whether it be through whistles and stares or through more direct propositions.

If possible, talk to women from the host culture before leaving the United States. Ask them what it is like to be a woman in their country. What are their perspectives of women’s issues and rights? Depending on the culture, some women may feel more or less comfortable talking about gender issues. Try to respect the situation they are coming from, but don’t feel that you have to put aside your beliefs and embrace their cultural values.

Be aware of the stereotypes held of American women before you go so you know what to expect and have some understanding of why you may be treated a certain way. There is a wealth of books and web-sites that have information specifically for the woman traveler. Journeywoman is an on-line magazine for women who love to travel at http://www.journeywoman.com. This site is dedicated to giving women a space to share their thoughts, experiences and advice about world travel.

Sexual Harrassment & Education Abroad

Cultural differences in interactions on romantic or sexual levels can be a problem area: some behaviors might be very inappropriate in the U.S., but considered perfectly acceptable in the culture in which you are living, and vice-versa. Some of the new behaviors will be relatively easy to adjust to, but others pose more of a problem. Sexual harassment is a articularly difficult area because of the extreme variance in acceptable behavior between cultures. Combined with the different social and legal responses to such behavior, sexual harassment when abroad can be a difficult scenario to deal with; fortunately there are ways to prevent or lessen the negative onsequences.

Harassment normally falls into one of two categories; the first being when a person in a position of power or influence requests sexual favors, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It often includes a trade relationship such as “you do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.” This type of harassment is quite serious, and even one incident should be reported immediately.

The second category consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward a person because of her or his gender. This type of harassment usually takes place repeatedly over a period of time and creates an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment, and may unreasonably interfere with a person’s academic performance.

The most important thing to remember is to stay safe. If you do not feel safe in a particular situation remove yourself or distance yourself from that situation immediately. Go to the in-country program director or foreign student adviser, or go stay with a friend you can trust. If the adviser or director cannot or will not help you, call your program office and the Office of International Programs at CSU for assistance. Do not wait to contact someone in the hope that the situation will improve. Maybe you can work things out, but do it with the assistance of the program director and someone in the OIP.

Until you know a place and a culture, you may be in danger of misjudging the situation. Listen to your instincts and think and act on the safe side, even if that may not be the most “exciting” side to be on. And most importantly, do not abuse alcohol while in a foreign culture; losing full use of your faculties can cause errors in judgment and other situations that may lead to unwanted sexual harassment or assaults, or otherwise endanger your well-being.


While Scandinavian countries are known for their wide acceptance of homosexuality, the intolerance of gays, lesbians, bisexual and trans-gendered students may be extreme in other locations around the world. Please take time to understand the cultural views held towards sexual differences before you leave the U.S. and consider how you will address this challenge. In some countries, it may be dangerous to be “out” — even criminal. Don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns with an education abroad advisor or with your program sponsor. They can assist you in learning as much as you can about the resources available to you in your host country.

  • Bibliography of resources for the GLBT traveler
  • Planet Out has a section that focuses on international travel. The site includes information on gay-friendly accommodations, restaurants, bars, events and organizations around the world. The site also features a chat line in case you have a specific question or need advice.
Mobility Abroad

With adequate preparations and precautions, much of the world is accessible to travelers with disabilities. Mobility International publishes a booklet “A World Awaits You“, that provides useful information about both travel and study.

Rules & Regulations Abroad

As a visitor of your host country, you are subject to the laws and regulations of their judicial system. Refusing to obey local laws, especially those that concern alcohol and the use of illicit drugs, can get you kicked out of your program, not to mention thrown into jail. The U.S. Consulate has no authority when its citizens have violated the laws of the country. They should be contacted if you find yourself in a legal problem and they can assist you in finding appropriate council.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs, a branch of the U.S. Department of State, is responsible for protecting the interests of US citizens abroad.

U.S. Department of State,
Bureau of Consular Affairs,
Overseas Citizens Services
Telephone: +001 (202) 501-4444 (Overseas daytime and evening)

Contact this office regarding:

  • Death of an American citizen abroad
  • Arrest/detention of an American citizen abroad
  • Robbery of an American citizen abroad
  • American citizens missing abroad
  • Crisis abroad involving American citizens
Alcohol & Drugs

Drinking while socializing is the norm in most parts of the world. We won’t tell you not to drink; that is your decision as an adult in the eyes of the law abroad. Realize, however, that becoming drunk can have hazards. If you cannot find your way home you may become a victim of less than scrupulous people who might rob or assault you. If you are drunk in public you may be arrested and put in the “drunk tank” for the night. These are not the kind of intercultural experience that you want. U.S. students already have a reputation abroad as “drinking to get drunk.” Help dispel that stereotype and avoid problems through responsible behavior. Drugs that are illegal in the U.S. are also illegal almost everywhere else in the world and the penalties in some countries can be very stiff, even life threatening. If you are arrested on a drug charge, the U.S. Consular Officer cannot demand your immediate release, or get you out of jail, or the country represent you at a trial or give legal counsel pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds.

Making the Most of Your Time Abroad

Tips from Education Abroad Alumni

While your experience abroad is fresh in your mind now, take pictures, write a blog or keep a journal about familiar pieces of your everyday life. It’s possible that you’ll return to the same place again someday, but it will not look the same as it does this first time.

  • Try to make friends with the locals; don’t just cling to the Americans that are there.
  • Do not expect locals to make friends with you, you will have to make the effort.
  • Do not spend all your time on Facebook and Skype.
  • Do not go into the country with pre-determined assumptions of the culture. Be open-minded and wait until you get there.
  • Have some goals of what you’d like to get out of the experience.
  • Take pictures of your favorite people, places, foods etc.
  • Make a list of the top ten people you want to stay in contact with and gather their contact information.
  • Make a wish list of all the things you still want to do/accomplish before you leave and do them!
  • Visit your favorite places or go to places you haven’t had a chance to visit yet.

Preparing to Return Even While You Are Abroad

Social Networking, Housing & Family
  • Exchange contact information with your friends, host-family, classmates, advisor, and supervisor.
  • Confirm the move out date from your housing (dormitory or renting lease).
  • Inform your landlord of your move out date and set an inspection date.
  • Make sure to speak to your landlord about the procedure to get your rent deposit returned. You might need to leave your home mailing address with your landlord.
  • Pay any outstanding utility bills (electric, cable, internet, cell phone, water, garbage, etc).
  • Arrange for your utilities (and cell phone) to be disconnected by your move out date.
  • Donate or sell your unneeded furniture, personal items (i.e. clothes) or automobile. If you sell your automobile, make sure to transfer the title to the new owner and remember to cancel your automobile insurance.
  • You can donate clothes to many local charities.
  • Send any belongings home.
  • Visit the CSU Career Center
  • Check the airline’s luggage weight/size regulations and cost for overweight/extra bags. These specifications can vary by airline and country of destination. You may also want to ask about insurance.
  • Keep all old and new immigration documents together in a safe place.
Re-Entry Adjustment

Re-entry may be the most challenging part of culture shock you will face. Students often report returning home was more difficult than leaving. Prior to returning, it is easy to assume that life at home will be essentially the same as it was before you left–that getting back into the old lifestyle will be complicated only by having lost a little time with old friends. It is not always as simple as that.

Re-entry shock is a state of disequilibrium. You have had wonderful experience that has taught you many things but somehow the new things that you have learned may not fit into your everyday world. You want to tell people about what you experienced but many friends would rather tell you what happened while you were away. People may see you as being more critical of things in your own culture and country and feel betrayed when you say you might want to go back there someday. You prefer the company of those who shared your experience, and in some cases your international experience takes on ideal qualities that can’t be matched at home.

Coping with re-entry shock requires that you and those who care about you recognize its symptoms and origins. You are a different person after being abroad and instead of undoing all of the changes that have occurred in you:

  • Take time to evaluate the two cultures and think about how you can incorporate parts of both into your lifestyle.
  • Talk to family members and friends about how you think you have changed and listen to their ideas.
  • Listen to the stories of what happened at home while you were away, and then share some of your own experiences.
  • Seek out others who have been abroad for extended periods.

If you find yourself feeling sad that your “experience of a lifetime” has ended, remember…an education abroad program does not have to be a singular experience for you. Instead, look at it as only the start of a lifetime of international experiences.