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Dealing with Culture Shock

Culture shock is the confusion, anxiety, and irritability that often results from time spent in a new culture combined with isolation from the home culture. It is to be expected, so don’t worry if it happens to you! Many students are surprised by how homesick they feel in their first few weeks overseas. It can be quite stressful getting used to interacting in a new language, not being able to go home for the weekend, and getting used to the often less personal academic environment of the bigger universities.

In reality, culture shock is an important step in adjusting to and understanding your new surroundings. In most cases getting over it is simply a matter of time. It helps to get involved in activities planned for exchange/international students at your university and consider joining clubs and societies. These are the best ways to meet other people who are in a similar situation.

Stages of Cultural Adjustment

  • Initial Euphoria:  excitement experienced upon arrival and for initial days;
  • Irritability:  frustration from differences experienced in foreign city and challenges adapting to a new way of life.  Associating only with other Americans is a common occurrence at this stage;
  • Gradual Adjustment:  the culture slowly becomes familiar and one becomes accustomed to new cultural norms.
  • Adaptation and Biculturalism:  you now function comfortably in the new culture and may even feel that you are a part of the new culture; and
  • Re-Entry:  the realization when you return home that you have changed. This is often a change that family and friends do not understand.

Suggestions for Cultural Adjustment

Remember: there is no "best way" to deal with culture shock, it always depends on the individual.

Below are examples of how to cope:

  • Prepare well for your experience
  • Know how to sort out various practical problems on your arrival and who can help you
  • Make yourself aware of any obvious culture differences
  • Always keep an open mind and do not expect to find things as you have them at home
  • Search out new experiences and friends. Meet local and other international students
  • Remember that you have traveled far to learn about and experience a new culture, and to represent your country and school
  • Do not judge the people of a country by one person or one experience
  • Treat everyone you meet with respect
  • Keep a sense of humor about yourself and the situation
  • Listen and observe rather than merely seeing or hearing
  • Acknowledge that there are different conceptions of time
  • Spend time daily to reflect in order to process your experiences
  • Make use of your host university’s support system; i.e. student affairs, study abroad office
  • Stay in touch with family and friends

Keep in mind that most people only DREAM about having this experience.