Cultural Adaptation: What is it like?

Adapting to a new culture is a complex process. It can be exciting, but also overwhelming and intimidating at times. How you can support an exchange student who is working hard to adapt and fit in? The first step is understanding.

10 Metaphors for Cultural Adaptation...

Metaphors can help us understand and explain what it's like to go through this. They can also boost empathy, compassion and motivation to support and encourage a foreign exchange student to keep on going even when the going gets tough! Why? Because it's worth it!

Here are ten metaphors that can help describe what it's like to live abroad:

1. A Cultural Puzzle

puzzle pieces

Adapting to a new culture is like putting together a puzzle. At first, the pieces may seem unfamiliar and challenging, but over time, you learn how they fit together to create a complete picture. 

2. A Cultural Game

game boards and pieces

Moving from one culture to another is like jumping from one game board into an entirely new and different game. It takes time to learn the ropes and become a competent player in the new game.

3. A Cultural Kaleidoscope


Imagine adapting to a new culture as turning a kaleidoscope. Every experience you have shifts the patterns, colors, and perspectives, creating a new and unique view of the world. It is truly fascinating!

4. A Cultural Dance

couple learning to dance

Adapting to a new culture can be compared to learning a new and different dance. Initially, the steps feel awkward and unfamiliar, but with practice and observation, you start moving more gracefully in sync with the cultural rhythm.

5. A Cultural Garden

planting a seed by a seedling

Similar to tending to a garden, adapting to a new culture involves planting the seeds of so many new experiences, nurturing the growth of cultural understanding, weeding out misunderstandings and ploughing through culture shock. It requires patience, care, and attention to foster positive cultural interactions.

6. A Cultural Juggling Act

A teenage girl learning how to juggle

Adapting to life in a different culture requires us to learn how to juggle many new things at once: new people/relationships, different home/community, climate, foods, schedules, activities, unwritten rules, laws, language and so much more.

7. A Cultural Journey

woman walking on road through green fields

The process of adapting to a new culture is like embarking on a journey. There are different stages, landscapes, and challenges along the way, but each step contributes to personal growth and understanding.

8. A Cultural Mirror

asian teenage girl looking in mirror

Adapting to a new culture can be like looking into a mirror that reflects both your own cultural background and the new cultural environment. The more you understand and appreciate both reflections, the clearer your cultural identity becomes.

9. A Cultural Symphony

musicians playing violins in symphony

Adapting to a new culture is like becoming a part of a symphony. Each cultural element plays its unique role, contributing to a harmonious whole. Finding your place in a new culture requires listening, learning, and blending in.

10. A Cultural Ocean

big wave in the ocean

Adapting to a new culture is comparable to navigating an ocean. There are waves of challenges, tides of change, and depths of understanding. It requires adapting to the ebb and flow of the cultural dynamics in your destination country.

Leverage the Power of Metaphors

It will never be easy to fully explain what it's like to leave everything behind to go and live abroad. However, these metaphors can help us describe the experience as dynamic, evolving, and multifaceted. They can also help us identify with intercultural challenges and the life-changing opportunities for growth and enrichment.


Tags: Cultural Exchange, cultural understanding, cultural immersion

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