Know Before You Go

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High School Gap Year

High School Gap Year

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the “Connection” and “Curriculum” sections of their course and then talk more about Culture Shock and Cultural Differences.

In the Connection module of Canvas, participants are:

  1. Getting to know their fellow program participants
  2. Meeting their CIEE Team and the people that will help them prepare for their Gap experience and staff in-country who will facilitate their program
  3. Thinking about how they want to represent themselves as an ambassador while they are abroad
  4. Learning to navigate communications with friends and family at home while establishing independence and self-reliance as a gap program participant.

Parents: Ask your participant what they want to represent as an ambassador while they are abroad.

Students:  Tell your parents about what it means to you to be an ambassador.

In the Curriculum module of Canvas, participants are:

  1. Learning about the academic parts of their program (Language classes, Service projects or Internship Placements and professional development)
  2. Learning about Cultural Activities and Outings in which they will participate


Parents: Ask your participant what activity they are most excited to try.

Students:  Tell your parents about the cultural activity you are most excited to try.

A Note about Culture Shock:

Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation when subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.  Some of the symptoms of culture shock include anxiety, excessive sleep, anger, disinterest, boredom, depression, and withdrawal. For some participants, culture shock happens when they first arrive in their host country; for others, it occurs later as they get to know the local culture and discover differences in things like norms, beliefs, and values that might not have been obvious at first.

Parents:  It is completely normal for participants immersing themselves in another country to experience culture shock.  If you sense that your participant is experiencing any of these symptoms as they adjust to life in a new environment, please let our Support Team know (800.448.9944).  Our support staff can coach you and your participant on how to ease the adjustment to life in their host country.

If a participant is experiencing culture shock, our staff will often encourage them to manage their digital life, because we have seen that spending too much time on the phone or on social media with family and friends at home slows down cultural adjustment (and, depending on their time zone, can seriously interfere with sleep!). Set your participant up for success by scheduling a regular time to check in with them on a weekly basis, and encourage them to focus on life in their host country during the rest of the week. When you do check in, remember to ask them what they enjoy about the culture of their host country and how they are getting involved in the local community, since verbalizing the positive aspects of their experience and fully participating in local life can help address culture shock.

Cultural Differences - It’s not weird, it’s just different!

Culture, the thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs of a particular group, manifests itself in how members of that group define right and wrong, respect and disrespect, and acceptable and unacceptable behavior. While your participant is abroad, they will likely encounter people who have a different cultural background from them and have been taught to act very differently than them.  Encourage your participant to respond with curiosity, not judgment, when they experience behaviors that initially strike them as “weird”.   Some cultural differences are immediately noticeable while others will be more subtle and take some thought and observation to recognize.  Remind your participant to be patient as they learn and grow. Encourage them to ask questions and talk to people to help understand the differences. 

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