Tips to Write a Cultural Shock Essay


Sristy Sharma
Updated on Jul 19, 2022 12:02 PM IST

Although cultural shock is a common experience for international students, writing a cultural shock essay is not as easy as it may seem. Here are some tips to write an excellent cultural shock essay along with the mistakes to avoid while writing one.

Tips to Write a Cultural Shock Essay

A cultural shock essay is one of the many criteria considered by foreign universities to evaluate an international applicant’s profile. However, not all universities ask for it. 

Students are often asked to present their views on ‘cultural shock’ in an essay — a feeling of confusion and anxiousness that comes from being in a completely new environment with an unfamiliar culture. 

Clearly, a cultural shock essay can become the deciding factor in the admission of the student. This makes it crucial to understand how to write a good cultural shock essay, the important points to include in it, tips to remember while writing, and the mistakes to avoid in writing the essay.

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What is a Cultural Shock Essay?

Cultural shock essays are common question prompts asked by foreign universities from international applicants.

Many foreign universities ask prompt questions from students as part of their eligibility criteria or application requirements. Students are required to answer these questions within the specified word limit. These question prompts are separate from a Statement of Purpose (SOP) or Personal Statement. These prompts help the admission committee get an insight into the psyche of the international student.

A cultural shock essay is one of the popular questions prompts for MBA courses generally asked from international students applying to MBA courses. However, many universities now have essay question prompts for bachelor’s and other master’s courses as well.

What is Cultural Shock?

Cultural shock refers to the feeling of conflict one experiences when moving to a different place. People from different places follow different practices when they move to a different place, they have to face circumstances different from their home. This causes a feeling of conflict, especially as the majority practice something they are not familiar with. This feeling of anxiety and aloofness is known as cultural or culture shock.

Culture shock may be induced due to different clothing, lifestyle, behavior, thinking, climatic conditions, outlook on life, food, prices, geographical location, safety, cleanliness, etc.

Important Points to Include in a Cultural Shock Essay

A good cultural shock essay must reflect a student’s ability to assess problems of cultural shock, on both apparent and emotional fronts. They must ensure to present their understanding of human nature and struggles. 

Here are some important points which must be addressed in a cultural shock essay.


Self-experience refers to any incident in which a person had to deal with cultural shock. Using any such incident as a base for one’s culture shock essay will help the student easily establish a framework for their essay.

If there is a self-experience that can be accounted for by the student, it will help them in writing a good cultural shock essay. In the case where the student has no experience with cultural shock, they can also narrate someone else’s experience. Students can also use the incidents of their vacations or trips to some other place as an incident.

The basic idea is to bring reality and understanding to the essay. Self-experience incidents will make the cultural shock essay more relatable, even for the selection panel of the university.

Socio-Cultural Aspects

While relating to the self-experience incident, students can highlight socio-cultural aspects of the incident. 

Socio-cultural aspects are the manner in which a culture can be defined. In order to highlight them, students can explain the difference between the two cultures in the incident experienced. They can explain the relevant background of the person who experienced cultural shock, and the culture followed in the place visited.

For instance, the difference in food tastes, manner of greeting, or even the dialect used by the locals of another place, or anything which caused the person in the incident to experience a stark difference from their place of residence.

Explanation of socio-cultural aspects will show that students can differentiate between two cultures, and rationally work out the reason for the difference.

Environmental Aspects

Many times culture shock is related to the environmental aspects of any place. Here, the environment includes past experiences in the place, which can affect the way of thinking developed by people.

If any place or country has been a constant target of invasions through the years, people are more defensive, skeptical, and protective of their own people as well as cultural aspects. 

If a student is able to explain this aspect in their cultural shock essay, it will show their ability to explore and understand different cultural backgrounds. One who can work out the reason behind the cultural practices of a region can easily work out a solution as well, one which can be adopted respectfully.

Emotional Aspects

Emotional aspects are related to identifying the feelings of the person in the incident, and the people of the new place.

A cultural shock essay must establish a feeling of culture shock. Culture shock is, in its most basic form, a feeling of being in a different set of circumstances than one is used to. 

It is important that the student is able to mention the feelings of the person facing a culture shock. These may include homesickness, awkwardness, anxiety, loneliness, amusement, freedom, etc. 

It is possible that culture shock leads to positive feelings as well, as people can find change in circumstances as better than theirs.

Tips to Write a Cultural Shock Essay - How to Answer?

Students now know what to include in their cultural shock essays, but how to structure them? In order to ensure a good cultural shock essay, the following tips can come handy. Considering them will help students write an impactful cultural shock essay.

Use Semi-fictional Style

As a self-experience or an incident is being incorporated into the essay, it is better to keep the style of the overall essay semi-fictional. Students can achieve this by stating the incident early in the essay. After that, while identifying the aspects and problems of culture shock, they can state the part of the incident as a reference.

A good way to keep a semi-fictional style is by using references to other people in the incident and their actions to explain problems and solutions.

Examine Problems with Solutions

Examining problems and aspects is not enough. The university’s selection panel will expect students to also provide possible solutions to properly face the culture shock. Students are not expected to provide clear-cut concepts. However, they are expected to show that they understand the importance of dealing with culture shock rationally.

Pursue One Problem

The word count, if mentioned, is very limited for a cultural shock essay. Students cannot keep pursuing all the problems and suggesting solutions for them. Instead, they can choose a single problem they believe is the most important and hold onto it throughout the essay.

Students are expected to state reasons for choosing the problem as one requiring special attention.

Course Relevant Points

Although students are not expected to know the concepts of a course they are yet to study, they must have an idea of what they are going to study. If students use course-relevant points in their essays, it will benefit them in getting admission.

For instance, MBA students must use problems that can be identified and solved by using their specialisations. The same goes for other course applicants. Students can choose their first-hand experience which highlights problems most relevant to their chosen course.

Organised Format

Even if the content is good, its improper organisation will reduce one’s chances of admission. The essay must be organised enough to ensure consistency and flow. The ideal format for a cultural shock essay is given below.

Maintain a Flow

It is not required that a clear-cut point dictates the organisation or format of the essay. Students only have to bring meaning and clarity to their cultural shock essay. 

They must maintain a natural flow in the essay, such that all points and statements are connected to each other. It is important that it can be read with ease, which only natural flow can bring about.

Mistakes to Avoid in a Cultural Shock Essay

Some mistakes tend to creep into culture shock essays even after good content and proper organisation have been identified. These mistakes can lead to the rejection of admission applications. Here are the mistakes that must be avoided in a culture shock essay.

Grammar and Spelling Mistakes

A culture shock essay is to be written in English, or the language of the chosen study programme. Incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes will show a lack of fluency of the student in the language. The situation will become more severe when the scores on English proficiency tests differ from the skills apparent in the essay. Hence, the essay must be corrected for all grammatical and spelling errors.

Not Adhering to Word Count

Universities generally mention the required word count and a margin of error that is acceptable in terms of a culture shock essay word count. It is important that students adhere to this word count.

Alternatively, when the word count has not been mentioned, students are advised to stick to 500-800 words. The range will give them enough scope to cover all the significant aspects while restricting them from them overemphasising everything.


Students must try not to exaggerate each point in the essay. They need to maintain clarity, which can only be achieved by keeping their statements brief and well-worded. They only need to state their point of view and not provide an explanation for their way of thinking.

Submitting it Unedited

Editing is extremely important for a good cultural shock essay. It will help students confirm that all important points have been included, organisation and natural flow are intact, and unwanted mistakes have been avoided.

Students are advised to apply at least three editing processes to their essay before finalising it.

Cultural shock essays can prove extremely helpful in admission given that they help validate the personal skills of students which can be crucial for studying abroad. Hence, students are advised to write a good essay, irrespective of their standardised test scores and GPAs. They can also do some background research on the subject of culture shock and ways to deal with it. It would help them in gaining an insight into their own upcoming experience when they move to a completely new country.

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What is the ideal word limit for a cultural shock essay?

The ideal word limit for a cultural shock essay is less than 800 words and more than 500 words. The word limit allows students to properly explore the question and yet avoid explaining their way of thinking. This word limit must be referred to only when the university has not mentioned any word count for the essay on culture shock.

Do I still need to submit an SOP if I am submitting a cultural shock essay?

Yes, you still need to submit an SOP even if you are submitting a cultural shock essay. An SOP or statement of purpose is relevant to your choice of university and what you expect from the course and post graduation. Hence, it is related to your educational background and future and not on your opinions on culture shock.

What are the common essay question prompts asked by foreign universities?

There are many types of essay question prompts asked by foreign universities. Some of them are leadership and its best style, opinions on culture shock, self-development, how to tackle obstacles, personal story and lessons from it, beliefs and how to challenge them, etc. Sometimes universities also ask students to choose their own topics to write an application essay.

Can I choose to answer a different question prompt than a cultural shock essay?

You may choose to answer a different question prompt than a cultural shock essay, provided, the university allows you to do so. Universities may ask essay question prompt on culture shock as an option among two or three essay question prompts. Universities also allow students to choose their own topics for application essays. 

I do not have any experience with culture shock. What do I write for a cultural shock essay?

You can write a cultural shock essay even if you do not have any experience with culture shock. You can approach any relative or known person for their own story on culture shock, or you can also draw an imaginary scenario highlighting the aspects of culture shock. While drawing an imaginary scenario on culture shock you must make it logical, rational, and believable.

When is the right time to attempt a cultural shock essay?

The right time to attempt a cultural shock essay is when you are done with your standardised tests and other documentation to apply to the university. Ideally, you must be done with these documents at least three weeks before applications are invited by the university. In any case, you must start working on your SOP and essays at least three to four weeks before submitting the application.

How many self-experiences can be included in a cultural shock essay?

There is no limit to the number of self-experiences that can be included in a cultural shock essay. However, ideally, students should mention only one main experience or incident of culture shock. That said, you may include short experiences while providing solutions. They must not be highlighted as the primary one, or you may end up overstuffing information in your essay.

Can I submit more than one cultural shock essay?

There is generally no guidance on the number of cultural shock essays you can submit. However, no university expects you to submit more than one essay on culture shock. In fact, the move might impact your application adversely. It is advised that you work diligently on one application essay only, rather than submitting multiple essays.

Is a cultural shock reflection essay different from a culture shock essay?

A cultural shock reflection essay might be different from a culture shock essay depending on the circumstances. Though universities never ask for both, if they do, they want students to explore culture shock and its aspects in the culture shock essay, and share their own experience with culture shock in the culture shock reflection essay. 

From which point of view should an international student cultural shock essay be written?

International students can write a cultural shock essay from any point of view they wish to. However, it is recommended that the third-person point of view be used. The same will allow students to critically evaluate their incidents and present a more confident front. It will also allow them to provide with some relevant examples, wherever possible.

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