Cultures and customs all over the world are distinctive and unique to each country. Many factors — including, but not limited to, environmental, social, economic, technological, political, religious, artistic, and/or educational — help contribute and shape this diversity. By learning and distinguishing between different cultures and customs, you will be well-prepared for adapting in new environments.

Some things to remember:

  • To succeed in your new environment, you will need to be resourceful, broad-minded, willing to learn from your mistakes, and determined to stay
  • Learn about and respect local customs and cultures
  • Be ready to experience some level of cultural adjustment as you transition to a new culture

Before Leaving

Before leaving, students should consider the potential differences at each individual destination they are planning to travel to in order to be prepared for all facets of culture.  Be aware that attitudes towards individual differences including gender, homosexuality, religion, and race may not be the same in all countries. Discrimination may exist in your host culture that you are not familiar with.

For information on cultural do’s and don’ts in different countries, visit the Country Insights page on the Centre for Intercultural Learning website. For additional information on travelling as a woman and/or about LGBTQIA issues, please review the ‘YOU Abroad’ tab.

Culture Shock

For students studying abroad, the transition of adjusting to your host culture may take some time. Students might experience culture shock and feel frustrated as laws, customs, and gestures once taken for granted may no longer apply. For a better understanding of the transitions and symptoms of culture shock, and possible strategies for minimizing it, take a look at the Glogster below (click to expand):

Re-entry

As students return from their study abroad experience, their expectations and/or idealized view on familiar surroundings may differ from reality.  This incongruence is called reverse culture shock, and students may have to re-adapt to their home surroundings again.  To learn more about the 4 stages of reverse culture shock and suggestions to counteract it, please view the Glogster below (click to expand):

YOU

Representing UBC

As a student of UBC, you represent yourself, the University, British Columbia, and Canada while abroad. It is crucial that you are aware of and abide by any relevant local lows and customs so you can care for your welfare and safety, as well as that of your classmates.

In the event of a violation of regulations, you may be subject to disciplinary measures from the University. If you are involved in illegal activities while abroad, you are subject to your destination country’s laws and could face the judicial system. The Canadian government may not be able to help you in all cases.

Clothing

While you are packing, it is a good idea to think about what is considered appropriate to wear in your destination country. Think about the culture of your country and the places you might visit. For example, religious sites may require certain body parts to be covered depending on your gender or age. Take into consideration factors such as the seasons and the climate in your location, national and local customs, and even social functions you plan to attend.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is uninvited and unwanted sexual attention given by a person who knows or should know that it is unwelcome. It can be direct or implied, obvious or subtle, and is against the law in Canada. Most Canadian universities have a harassment/discrimination office with advisors who are trained to deal with sexual harassment issues.

Other cultures may deal with harassment differently and may not have the same policies or procedures. If you find yourself in a situation in which you feel harassed, contact Go Global or your host organization.

For what to do in cases of Sexual Assault while abroad, visit the Assistance tab on the Emergencies Learning Module.

Gender

Gender roles vary from culture to culture. Keep in mind that different societies may have different gender expectations than what you are used to. This could include many aspects of culture, such as clothing and behaviour. To learn more about how gender could impact your travel, take a look at “Her Own Way,” the Government of Canada’s publication on women’s safe travels.

While you should be prepared for potential differences, if you ever feel like your safety or health are at risk, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it for support.

LGBTQIA

LGBTQIA is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual, questioning and queer, intersex and asexual. Beliefs and laws relating to LGBTQIA can vary drastically, with some countries even considering such activity illegal. The International Lesbian and Gay Association collects and summarizes information on local laws pertaining to LGBTQIA issues for many countries.

Please note that these are summaries and do not account for all people’s beliefs and reaction within a culture or country.

For additional information and support as you prepare to travel, please visit UBC’s Live Well, Learn Well resources.

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