Student and Graduate Publishing

Overcoming Culture Shock

Tuesday, 18 July 2017 11:42

Culture shock is one of the main challenges international students face. It is described as the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar. Although culture shock is fairly common, it is only temporary, and can be managed by knowing what to expect and how to hopefully overcome it. 

Culture shock is usually a multifactorial experience; exposure to all the different foods, languages, climates, and codes of conducts of another country can take its toll. This is particularly true for those who have lead a very traditional lifestyle pertaining to their own cultural background or the country they have come from. However, coming from the more culturally diverse societies, like those of the UK and USA, doesn’t necessarily make someone immune to culture shock as the extent of such an impact depends on a person’s own characteristics and lifestyle. As a result of the psychological effects of culture shock – i.e. disorientation, a sense of loss, and confusion – the way one carries out daily activities such as socialising or shopping may also be effected. 

There are four phases to look out for:

1. Honeymoon/ Tourist.

During the honeymoon phase the student may experience similar feelings to being on holiday. It will be exciting and euphoric. There will be some anxiety and stress but the overall feeling will be positive. 

2. Shock.

The transition from the honeymoon phase to the shock phase depends on individual characteristics and how well they prepared. Culture shock may arise immediately upon arrival to another country but generally emerges within the first month. You might have some negative experiences or the cultural differences may become irritating, leading to feelings of disappointment, frustration and isolation.

3. Adjustment/ Reorientation.

This is where things start to look up. You will learn to accept and possibly embrace the cultural differences while developing problem-solving skills to deal with any difficulties with a positive attitude. You will find that you have regained your enthusiasm towards getting to know the new culture and learning about it has become more of a fun challenge.

4. Adaptation/ Resolution.

At this stage students will have successfully resolved any outstanding issues and can now function within the new culture. The way in which someone adapts to the culture depends on their own attitude and goals. In the adaptation phase, you might acquire a new-found appreciation for the culture, as it will begin to feel more natural, which may give rise to a bicultural identity.

Culture shock can be overcome by first understanding that it is a normal experience and could even be a useful learning curve. If you are about to take on your international studies, make sure you are prepared! Learn as much as you can about the country you are moving to. A great way to do this is by finding out what people who have been there or already live there have to say about it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before and after your arrival; pay attention to small details in your search for knowledge such as social norms and codes of conduct. There’s no rush either; be patient with yourself and set goals for learning about the new culture so that you don’t become too overwhelmed. 

During the honeymoon phase, it might be a good idea to keep a journal of all your positive experiences and revise everything you have learnt about the culture prior to moving. This way you can be prepared for any possible difficulties and think of ways to resolve them while you are still in a calm and positive mindset. Throughout your stay, make sure to keep regular contact with your family and friends from back home and have familiar things around you for comfort - this is especially important for the second phase. However, it is equally important to make sure you find a balance between staying in touch with home and getting to know your new environment. 

When you start university, make the most of those first couple of weeks that are all about meeting new people, joining societies and just settling in. This is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in activities, meet other international students who will most likely be going through what you are and other students who share similar interests to you - be it sports, music or food. Perhaps, if you are religious, join a faith community within the university to build strong connections. 

Finally, stay true to yourself. Studying abroad may make you feel like a small fish in a big pond, but take it as an opportunity to grow as a person. Don’t hold yourself back, and enjoy the experience as much as you can!

- By Tasfia Gazi