Jessie Voigts has a PhD in International Education, has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled around the world. She’s published six books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way.
Jessie is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel library for people curious about the world. She is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, and is passionate about study abroad and international education. She founded and directs the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program, teaching teens all around the world.
How did you get into traveling?
My family has always traveled – and made global education a priority. We have a cottage up north, but we’ve always traveled elsewhere, as well. Both my brother and I traveled extensively in college (and after).
What was your most intense culture shock experience?
I lived in Japan for a year in college, and was quite surprised by gender roles there. I was young and didn’t really know a lot about ethnorelativism. But I soon learned…
What did you learn from it?
I learned how to not judge someone based on my own experiences and worldview. I learned to try to understand a person and culture, and why things happen the way they do. I learned to be open-minded, and to practice ethnorelativism and kindness.
Any tips for someone going through culture shock for the first time?
Breathe! Know that everyone goes through this, and that it is normal. Surround yourself with support (and maybe a snack from home!), but also get out there and experience the culture, learn new things, try new foods, make new friends. Complaining won’t get you anywhere – learning about where you are living will definitely help. The more you experience a place, the more familiar it seems, and the more interculturally adjusted you become.
What helped you?
Getting off the phone and internet! Living in the present, and knowing that this was happening to me like it happens to everyone – and that I wasn’t crazy.
What has reverse culture shock been like for you?
That’s almost more difficult than culture shock, actually. You come home and it appears that nothing has changed but you. In reality, everyone has moved on and grown in their lives. Yours was just a different experience than theirs. This is a good time to drop judgement, for sure.
What is your favorite travel learning experience?
Any time I can befriend locals and learn firsthand about the culture is a favorite for me. I much prefer that to passing through, or seeing the main attractions. Also – food. I love to learn to cook local dishes, shop at local markets, gather recipes and stories and new ingredients.
Anything that triggered a profound shift?
I think the most profound shifts come within, at least for me. Maybe noticing that you’re used to taking off your shoes at the door, or that you dream in your second language. Maybe it is figuring out that it will take a lifetime to learn a culture. Once you find you’re comfortable in your new skin, then your whole world changes. You become more open and learn so much more.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Travel is the best education in the world! But you have to be open to new things and difference, and practice kindness and patience and gratitude.