Attitude Adjustment: The Best Advice I Ever Received About Culture Shock

Back in 2014 I was a Junior in college preparing to go abroad for a semester in South Korea. Even though I was beyond excited, I was also nervous about having to adjust and live in a new place for six months.


During that time I was taking a Linguistic Anthropology course, and the professor took some class time away from the main course subject to give a short presentation on how to deal with culture shock. She gave a list of traits that people who can thrive in new cultural environments should have, and this was number one:


A High Tolerance for Ambiguity


This idea is based in a psychological concept created by Else Frenkel-Brunswik, used to examine a person’s level of tolerance and ethnocentrism. But what this idea means to me is that sometimes you will have no idea what is going on and no way to find out—and you must be able to accept that.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This concept stuck with me throughout my time studying abroad and long after. Overtime I’ve realized that it has other meanings too, for example:

  • You must be secure in yourself and your ability to handle whatever happens next.
  • You need to try to be accepting of different practices and points of view.
  • You can’t be afraid of what you don’t understand simply because you don’t understand it.


I don’t think I can say that I’ve completely mastered this trait, but the anthropological point of view that I’ve developed through my studies has helped me improve on it.


What does this trait mean to you?


P.S. Happy New Year!


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