Cultural Adjustment

After spending some time in a different culture, some people may develop some sort of cultural shock. We’re holding on tightly to our own culture while trying to adapt to something new and this is normal! You might find it frustrating in a new place, new school, far away from friends, family, support, and it may hit you that you will be there for quite some time. You might even experience a whole range of emotions.

  1. Honeymoon Phase - Before you hit this phase, you will feel the initial anxiety of leaving. You might be nervous and anxious at the same time but when you finally arrive, you will feel excitement. There will be curiosity about all the different things, what the country as to offer, the sight-seeing, new environment, new food, new places, and absolute fascination with a new culture! But all “honeymoons” must come to an end.

  2. Culture Shock - You will next enter the stage of CULTURE SHOCK. The differences will make you feel out of place and frustrated, whether it be language barriers/misunderstandings, missing your friends and family, or overall freaking out! This can result in homesickness, depression, lack of energy and concentration. You might feel irritable and hesitation to go out, but this is NORMAL! And it is not just you! Symptoms may include anxiety, depression, loneliness, disorientation, and even illness, but don’t let that get you down!

  3. Adjustment/Adaptation - Overcoming the shock can be a challenge, but when you do, you will start to grow accustomed to and accepting of the new culture. Routines will be developed again with a positive attitude. “I can do this!” You’ll know what to expect in certain situations and start to feel comfortable, right at home again, adapting to a new culture and adjusting with your own.

  4.  Re-Entry Reverse Shock - Lastly, this is the stage where you make preparations to leave your host country and return home. You realize it’s time to say goodbye to friends. You’ll feel reluctant to leave, but you’re finally going home! While it seems unlikely you’ll experience any sort of shock, you may actually have quite a bit of catching up to do on what you missed while you were away! Those initial feelings will return and you may go through many frustrating emotions again as you try to incorporate all the different aspects of your international experience with your life at home in the United States, but you will be okay. Most students will experience SOME sort of culture shock. Everyone experiences it at different levels.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Before leaving, get to know your host country a little. Do a little research on their style of living.
  • Don’t worry about losing your home values or yourself. You won’t.
  • Enjoying and partaking in local customs doesn’t make you less of an American. It will open the door to understanding.
  • Make new friends!
  • Keep in mind it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.
  • Be careful not to impose your thoughts and norms on others.
  • Stay open-minded and curious to cultural difference.
  • Make an effort to learn a little of the local language and don’t worry about mistakes. People abroad will appreciate your efforts.
  • Be patient.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Keep your mind busy and be active!
  • Be sure to have a good sense of humor and willing to laugh at yourself!

And here's what you can do if you are experiencing Culture Shock:

  • Realize what you are going through is normal and temporary.
  • If you're having difficulties, talk with someone about them.
  • Take care of yourself - eat well, exercise, and be sure to get enough sleep!
  • Do something you like if you're feeling down in the dumps! Or join a club, get involved!
  • Travel or explore the city you are in!
  • Don't take anything too seriously or let others get on your nerves.
  • Try to regain stability. Form routines again.
  • And again, be patient and open-minded! A good sense of humor will go a long way!