Best Films about Cultural Shock, Experiences, and Exploration

May 29, 2024

Aspiring filmmakers worldwide enroll in programs abroad to experience life and adventure in another country. These programs are “significant for aspiring filmmaking and acting students because immersing oneself in a different country’s culture provides fresh perspectives on the film crafts, and offers new insights and inspirations for students’ projects,” says Jim Miller, NYFA’s Vice President of Strategic Initiatives.

One of these avenues is study abroad programs. “A significant number of international students enroll in NYFA’s abroad programs, ensuring that U.S. students do not remain in an American “bubble” as they might in other study abroad programs, and fosters valuable connections that can benefit one’s future career in the global creative industries,” Miller adds. “The international experience offers students enhanced life skills, storytelling abilities, and presentation confidence.”

Best Films about Cultural Shock, Experiences, and Exploration

For students prepping to study abroad or still exploring their options, exposure to new cultural experiences can start at home. Some of the greatest films about culture shock, experiences, and exploration are set in locations that provide insight and inspiration about other places. 

Here is a range of films that venture into new, exciting places, connections, and opportunities.

films about cultural shock and exploration
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Image via PCMag

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
(2000), directed by the legendary Ang Lee, is a famous martial arts film. Set in the Qing dynasty of ancient China, the four-time Oscar-winning film follows Yu Shu Lien (Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’s Michelle Yeoh) and Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat). The film was credited for exposing audiences to Chinese culture and demonstrating the potential of filming in the Beijing and Greater China regions

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
In the Golden Globe-nominated film The Hundred-Foot Journey, the Kadam family leaves their home country of India for France. After opening a restaurant specializing in Indian food, the family patriarch (Om Puri) finds himself in conflict with the owner of the restaurant across the street, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Mallory, who is known for her French cuisine, is suspicious of the new family and restaurant, but in time, welcomes the Kadam son (Manish Dayal) to come cook. 

films about cultural shock and exploration
Paris is Burning (1990), Image via The Criterion Collection

Paris is Burning (1990)
Paris is Burning (1990), directed by Jennie Livingston, is a documentary film shot in NYC, exploring the city’s 1980’s drag ball culture. The film provides intimate insight into the lives of LGBTQ+ performers of color and inspires critical conversations about identity, community, and acceptance. The non-fiction film, similar to movies like Martha: A Picture Story (2019), Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), and Treasures of New York (2015), digs into the beauty and gritty nature of New York filmmaking

Outsourced (2006)
Outsourced (2006) follows a salesman who heads to India after his department is outsourced. As Todd (Josh Hamilton) experiences culture shock, he learns about his new co-workers, played by Asif Basra and Ayesha Dharker, and the new community he’s become a part of. The film was directed by John Jeffcoat and was filmed in India.

A Room With a View (1985)
In A Room With a View (1985), a young woman and her chaperone visit Florence, Italy. Starring Helen Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch, the film takes place in the Edwardian English era and follows the protagonist as she experiences love, adventure, and her first taste of independence. The film was adapted from the book of the same name.

films about cultural shock and exploration
Big Sur (2013), Image via Rotten Tomatoes

Big Sur (2013) 
Directed by Michael Polish, this drama is based on the autobiographical novel by Jack Kerouac and follows the author’s journey to Big Sur. Throughout the adventure, Kerouac seeks solace and inspiration amidst the rugged coastal California landscape. Like other movies shot in California, including La La Land (2016), Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), and Pulp Fiction (1994), show the various urban and rural settings to film in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and beyond.

Before Sunrise (1995) 
This romantic drama stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as two star-crossed lovers, meeting by chance on a train in Europe. Directed by Richard Linklater, the two spend a single night together exploring Vienna, Austria, engaging in deep conversations and forming a profound connection. 

The Endless Summer (1966)
This iconic documentary film follows two surfers traveling the world searching for the perfect wave.  The film explores surf culture and showcases some of California’s most famous surf spots. The film was directed by Bruce Brown.

films about cultural shock and exploration
Fire (1996), Image via UCLA

Fire (1996)
In Fire, two women feeling neglected by their husbands find connection and partnership in each other, sparking a romance. Starring NYFA Guest Speaker Shabana Azmi, the film takes place in New Delhi, India, and weaves in Indian culture to help tell the story. Similar to films like The Lunchbox (2013), Mahanati (2018), and Anupama (1966), the movie beautifully illustrates the beauty of Indian filmmaking. The film was also credited for vital LGBTQIA+ representation. 

Amélie (2001)
Amélie (2001) is an iconic five-time Oscar-nominated cult film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien Resurrection, Casanova). The film explores the magical and quirky world of the titular Amélie (Audrey Tautou), a reserved Parisian waitress who finds herself on an unexpected adventure. The film is an unexpected rom-com perfect for any Francophile. 

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Directed by Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited (2007) tells the story of three eccentric brothers (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman), on a train journey across India. Along the way, the brothers connect as they find spiritual enlightenment.

films about cultural shock and exploration
Paris, je t’aime (2006), Image via A Good Movie to Watch

Paris, je t’aime (2006)
 This anthology film features 18 short films directed by various filmmakers, including Wes Craven, Walter Salles, the Coen Brothers, and Alfonso Cuarón. With each short film set in a different neighborhood of Paris, the film covers a range of themes, including love, romance, and connection, and features Juliette Binoche, Leonor Watling, and Ludivine Sagnier. The movie casts Paris as its own character, showing the nuances and charm of the city

Roman Holiday (1953) 
The famous Oscar-winning romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck brings viewers through 1950s Paris, following a princess who escapes her royal duties. Behind the scenes, a recently separated Gregory Peck actually met his next wife, Veronique Passani, during filming. 

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Image via

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) 
The Oscar-winning The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), based on the memoir by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, tells the story of the transformative journey of a young medical student and his friend. As the two travel across South America, they encounter diverse cultures and social injustices, learning more about the world and themselves. The movie was filmed in Chile, and is similar to films like La Cienaga (2001), from Argentina, City of God (2004), from Brazil, Embrace of the Serpent (2015), from Colombia, Whisky (2004), from Uruguay, that serve as great examples of filmmaking in South America.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki’s Delivery Service
(1989) is a great animated film starring Kiki, a young witch (the English version voiced by Kirsten Dunst) adjusting to life in her small town of Koriko, where she lives with her cat. The film touches on Kiki’s moods and feelings, and how they impact her identity. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki of animated hits like The Boy and the Heron, the movie is beloved by fans everywhere.

films about cultural shock and exploration
La Dolce Vita (1960), Image via Senses of Cinema

La Dolce Vita (1960) 
La Dolce Vita (1960), considered to be one of the best Italian films, was directed by Federico Fellini and stars iconic actor Marcello Mastroianni. The Oscar-winning film follows Mastroianni as a journalist navigating the glamorous and decadent world of Rome’s elite, encountering a series of colorful characters, and exploring the existential ennui of post-war Italy. The film is one of many incredible movies filmed in Italy, showing off the range of shooting locations, scenic backdrops, and more.

West Side Story (1961)
The classic film West Side Story (1961), directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, is set in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. NYFA alum Ilda Mason performed in the current-day Broadway show and also starred in a remake of the film, which was directed by NYFA Guest Speaker Steven Spielberg. The musical is one of many New York-based films that show the diversity of the city, exploring one of the major boroughs.

Tracks (2013), Image via Toronto Sun

Tracks (2013)
Directed by John Curran, this biographical drama is based on the true story of Robyn Davidson. Davidson, played by Mia Wasikowska, embarks on a solo journey across the Australian desert with her dog and four camels. The film captures the stunning Australian landscapes while capturing her personal growth, and also features NYFA Guest Speaker Adam Driver. The film is one of many that showcase the filmmaking industry in Australia

Study Abroad and Study Away at NYFA

The benefits of studying internationally extend far beyond the travel perks. Students who study away in a foreign country gain cultural exposure, advanced networking reach, and essential life experience. In NYFA’s hands-on study abroad programs, students hone their craft in a unique context while building their voices as artists. NYFA also offers Study Away options for U.S.-based adults or students interested in immersing themselves in their film, media, or performing arts studies, but in a location closer to home. 

Ready to learn more about our programs? Explore Study Abroad at NYFA today, as well as our international campuses and locations!