The opportunity to study abroad presents numerous advantages, but it can also come with its own set of challenges. Feeling homesick is a common occurrence for students who are studying abroad and can be especially exacerbated by cultural differences.
Exploring new cultures is a thrilling aspect of traveling, but it can also bring about feelings of overwhelming difference. Gain insights on how to tackle culture shock with this useful guide.
As soon as you arrive in your destination country, you are faced with a barrage of new experiences. You may be taken aback by the street vendors selling fresh produce on every street corner, charmed by the openness of the locals, or puzzled by social customs and behaviors that are different from what you are familiar with. This adventurer is known as culture shock.
What is culture shock?
Culture shock is a phenomenon that affects many people when they are exposed to a new and different culture, which can be overwhelming and difficult to adjust to. Culture shock is the disorientation that a person can experience when they encounter unfamiliar values, customs, and behaviors in a foreign country. It is a normal part of the process of adapting to a new culture, but it can also be challenging and unpleasant.
When people move to a new country, they often experience a range of emotions, such as excitement, curiosity, and apprehension. However, once they arrive, they are suddenly faced with the reality of a completely new environment and way of life. The unfamiliarity of the new culture can cause feelings of confusion, anxiety, and homesickness.
Culture shock is a normal part of the process of adapting to a new culture, and with time, people are able to adjust and feel more comfortable in their new surroundings. However, it is important to be patient with yourself and understand that it takes time to adapt to a new culture, and that it is okay to feel overwhelmed at times.
Stages of culture shock
The cultural shock experience can be divided into four stages:
- The Honeymoon Phase: At the start of your stay, you are excited to be in a new place, and everything feels new and exotic. You are likely to feel a sense of adventure, and the experience feels exciting.
- The Frustration Phase: In this stage, you may start to feel frustrated with the differences in culture and daily life. The new way of doing things can be confusing and even irritating. You may feel homesick and experience a sense of loneliness and isolation.
- The Adjustment Phase: During this stage, you start to adapt to the new culture and find ways to deal with the cultural differences. You begin to understand and appreciate the new culture, and your frustrations start to fade.
- The Acceptance Phase: In this final stage, you have fully adjusted to the new culture, and you feel comfortable and at ease. You have developed a sense of belonging and have formed new relationships with people from the host culture.
It’s important to keep in mind that these stages are not linear and can overlap, and some people may not experience all the stages, or they may experience them in a different order. It’s also important to recognize that culture shock can be a normal part of the adjustment process and that it’s a natural part of adapting to a new culture.
Factors that can contribute to culture shock
Moving to the northwest region can bring many weather-related challenges for students. The persistent grayness and dampness, particularly during winter, can be difficult to adapt to.
Learning a new language can be mentally and physically exhausting. In the classroom, some international students may struggle to comprehend lectures and reading materials as people often speak rapidly. This can lead to feelings of embarrassment if you have to repeatedly ask people to repeat themselves. If English is not your native language, you may experience homesickness for the familiar sounds of your home language.
Social customs and behaviors in a new environment can be confusing, unexpected, or even offensive. For instance, people may seem unfriendly, distant, or always in a hurry. Public displays of affection, such as handholding and kissing, may be surprising to you. Relationships between men and women, as well as same-sex relationships, may also be more or less formal than what you are accustomed to.
Differences in Values
While you may initially recognize cultural disparities through physical aspects such as food, clothing, and behavior, you may also encounter conflicting values. Culture is based on a complex system of norms, assumptions, beliefs, and values that may differ greatly from your own. It can be startling to realize that others may not share the same core values and beliefs, as we often take our own for granted and believe they are universal. It’s important to keep an open mind and try to understand the context of the culture before forming opinions. Try to see how each culture fits together cohesively and how they view your behavior, as well as their own. Once you have a better understanding of both cultures, you may find that you appreciate some aspects of each and dislike others.
If your spouse or partner has accompanied you to the U.S., remember that the stress of the transition may cause struggles in your relationship. The transition to a new culture may be very difficult for your partner. Your partner may feel very isolated; he/she has been transplanted from your culture and separated from family and friends. Simple tasks can be stressful due to the language barrier. Often times they do not have opportunities to engage in productive, meaningful activities such as pursuing a degree, and it may be more difficult for them to make new friends.
Tips for dealing with culture shock
Do your research
The first thing you will want to do is research your destination. Speak to people you know who have visited the country, read travel guides, and seek tips and advice from your university’s website.
It can also be helpful to learn the cultural etiquette and values of the country you are going to study in. Such as what is considered polite and what is considered rude. Learning some of the country’s basic history, politics, national events, and what the weather will be like can really help you with cultural adjustment in your new home.
Establish Your Objectives
Studying abroad is a thrilling adventure. If you’ve never been to the host country or continent, there’s so much to discover. You will want to balance your studies with sightseeing, trying new foods, and experiencing unique adventures. Set goals for your time abroad, such as visiting specific cities or trying particular activities. For instance, if you’re studying in the UK, make sure to explore popular cities like London, Manchester, York, or Edinburgh, and consider taking advantage of the close proximity to other European countries for further travel opportunities.
Be open-minded and ask questions
Adjusting to a new culture and living in a foreign country doesn’t mean you have to abandon your personal customs and beliefs. However, it’s important to show respect for those others. As a study abroad student, you will be surrounded by peers from various parts of the world, each with their own distinct values. So don’t hesitate to ask questions to better understand local customs and values. If you ever need support, reach out and ask someone.
Seek guidance from those around you
If you’re uncertain about anything in your new surroundings, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. Your fellow international students, who are going through similar experiences, can offer valuable insight and advice. Engaging in conversations with them about adjusting to the local culture and overcoming culture shock can broaden your understanding of the country and its people.
Stay connected with loved ones back home by regularly catching up with them over the phone or through video calls. Discuss both the positive and negative aspects of your study abroad experience with them.
Remember, your university is there to support you in all aspects, including your well-being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to reach out to them and express your feelings.
One of the ways to overcome culture shock is to become a part of the local community. This means making new friends and getting involved in activities that interest you. For example, if you were active in a church at home, try finding a similar community in your host city. If you volunteered in your hometown, search for volunteer opportunities in your new location. Participate in sports, attend cultural events, and turn your host city into a true home away from home.
Studying abroad can come with its own set of difficulties, as you are thrown into a new culture and often face unexpected challenges. However, despite the ups and downs, it is a valuable and enriching experience. Eventually, when you return home, you will likely look back on your time overseas with fondness, cherishing the memories and relationships you made, and forget about any difficulties you may have encountered.