Culture Shock

The “What” of Culture Shock

When you start your program abroad, you may feel like a fish out of water.

Newcomers feel, at times, that they do not belong, and consequently, may feel alienated from the native members of the culture. If this happens, you may want to reject everything about the new environment, and glorify and exaggerate the positive aspects of your own culture.

The severity of culture shock depends on your personality, language ability, emotional support, and duration of stay. It is also influenced by the extent of the differences, either actual or perceived, between the two cultures. There are recognized periods of adjustment, and although the stages in the cycle do not always occur in the same order, and some stages may be skipped, the following pattern is a common one.

Honeymoon Period

Initially, many people are fascinated and excited by everything new. The visitor is elated to be in a new culture. Everything is wonderful and enchanting.

Culture Shock

The individual immersed is in new problems: housing, transportation, shopping, language. Mental fatigue results from continuously straining to comprehend the foreign language. Complaints are the first symptoms.

Initial Adjustment

Everyday activities such as housing and shopping are no longer major problems. Although the visitor may not entirely understand the local language spoken, basic ideas and feelings in the second language or new dialect can be expressed.

Mental Isolation

Individuals have been away from their family and good friends for a long period of time and may feel lonely. Many still feel they cannot express themselves as well as they can in their native culture. Frustration and, sometimes, a loss of self-confidence result. Some individuals remain at this stage.

Acceptance and Integration

A routine (i.e.- work, business or school) has been established. The visitor has accepted the habits, customs, foods, and characteristics of the people in the new culture. The visitor feels comfortable with friends, the classmates, and culture of the country.

For further reading, we recommend InterNations Magazine: What is Culture Shock? 

Conquering Culture Shock

Don’t let culture shock rob you of an amazing experience abroad!

Below are several suggestions and techniques that you can use if you find yourself struggling with culture shock.

Hear it from an Alumna: Galina Fendikevich, Semester in Business and Economics, Prague, Fall 2015.

“My biggest tip: Leave America at the door. Leave the culture behind. Leave all preconceived notions of your host country behind. Leave your taste buds behind. Start fresh and truly immerse yourself in the new country. You will have to behave a little differently, eat differently, communicate differently, and be uncomfortable. It’s much easier if you don’t think, “This is not how we do it in the U.S.” and instead think, “I’m in someone else’s shoes, how do they live their life?”

Be patient.

The act of acculturating is a process of adaptation to new situations; it takes time.

Learn to be constructive.

If you encounter an unfavorable environment, don’t put yourself in that position again. Be easy on yourself.

Learn to include a regular form of physical activity in your routine.

This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner. Exercise, swim, take an aerobics class, etc.

Consider relaxation and meditation.

These techniques are proven to be very positive for people who are passing through periods of stress.

Maintain contact with your home culture.

This will give you a feeling of belonging and you will reduce your feelings of loneliness and alienation.

Make attempts at immersing in the new culture.

Learn the language. Volunteer in community activities that allow you to practice the language that you are learning. This will help you feel less stressed about language, and useful at the same time.

Establish simple goals and evaluate your progress.

Whether it is learning a new phrase in your new country’s language or navigating the transportation system, set a goal that is achievable, then move on to the next. Even the smallest successes can give you a great confidence boost.

Maintain confidence in yourself.

Follow your ambitions and continue your plans for the future.