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Cultural immersion: What it is and why it's so transformative

Cultural immersion: What it is and why it's so transformative

Study abroad trips offer you a chance to fully immerse yourself in a new culture, often for the first time. Being exposed to a rich, deep culture that influences music, food, drink, family, holidays, dress, and beliefs can be captivating, and completely transformative.

While you may be focused on learning a new language, what you’ll gain goes way beyond language skills. You’ll develop a holistic understanding of another culture and push yourself out of your comfort zone. You might even pick up some awesome new hobbies, learn some local recipes, or discover a favorite sport. 

Are you ready for your very own cultural immersion journey? Find out what exactly it is and why it is so transformative.

Improve your empathy and cultural sensitivity

Immersing yourself in another culture allows you to see the world from another perspective. We all grow up with a certain belief system, so seeing the world through another lens gives you a greater appreciation and empathy for others. 

Imagine watching a documentary about ancient Rome. If you don’t know anything about Roman history, you may not find the stories about the Pantheon or the Baths of Caracalla very interesting. However, if you’ve wandered through these important sites, and learned about the influence of this ancient civilization on a study abroad trip to Italy, you’ll likely tune in with a much greater appreciation and fond memories.

Pick up new hobbies and interests

Cultural immersion exposes you to a whole new world you might not even know about. You could learn a new sport, recipe, art style, language, or dance form that is deeply rooted in the local culture. 

Instead of watching the national sport of sumo wrestling in Japan on TV, why not sit ringside at a real tournament in Tokyo for yourself? Or see modern history up close in Berlin, play a game of rugby in England, or watch an eSports match in Seoul. By immersing yourself in a new culture, you create new ways of connecting to people and the world. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”.

Take part in cultural celebrations

On vacation, you rarely meet any locals, let alone have the chance to see how they live. By immersing yourself in a new language and culture, you can learn about other ways of life, beliefs, and traditions. 

You may get to join in celebrations on Three Kings Day in Spain, Thanksgiving in the US, or score an invite to a beach BBQ in Sydney’s Bondi Beach on Australia Day. Who knows, one day you may even get an invite to the ultimate cultural event — a wedding. Being fortunate enough to participate in a wedding from another culture is an absolutely unforgettable experience.

Understand how language is connected to culture

Language is deeply connected to culture. Every language has its own idioms, slang words, and expressions that have evolved over time. For example, the Japanese word “omotenashi'' embodies the concept of wholehearted hospitality and service, which is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. In many East Asian cultures, bowing is a common form of greeting that signals respect and hierarchy, while in Western cultures, handshakes are common in most settings.

In Australia, the informal, friendly, and abbreviated language is a reflection of the laid-back nature of Australian culture. People call each other “mate” in many contexts, even with people they’ve just met, and many words are shortened or abbreviated: “arvo” for “afternoon”, “avo” for “avocado” and “barbie” for “barbecue”.

In Ireland, many Irish slang words have developed from the Irish versions of the word, others simply reflect how “gas” (Irish slang for funny) the Irish are. 

Improve your language acquisition

We know immersion is an incredibly effective way to truly master a language. Being surrounded by native speakers and having real-world opportunities to use the language every single day can be invaluable to your progress and motivate you to continue learning.

Another important aspect of cultural immersion is the way it can help improve your accent and fluency. By listening to native speakers every day, on the radio, on the street, in shops, or in social settings, you will develop a more authentic and natural-sounding accent. Regularly interacting with native speakers allows you to pick up on common phrases and expressions that you can incorporate into your own speech patterns.

This could be as simple as hearing “What would you like?” each morning when you visit a cafe, or following instructions in a fitness class at the gym. Responding to real-life conversations forces you to practice, leading to greater fluency in a shorter period of time.


Immersing yourself in another culture is a transformative journey that equips you with invaluable insights into the world around you. Returning home after being part of a profound cultural experience can be challenging. You might have these incredible new ideas and interests, and struggle to find people to share them with. Interestingly enough, this is very common, and it's known as “reverse culture shock”. Giving yourself time to readjust and reconnect is the most important thing to remember. In time, you may well find yourself connecting with more people than ever back home, sharing experiences you were able to bring with you from your journey abroad.

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