Culture Shock and How to Deal with It

You’ve made the big decision. You’ve applied to and been accepted at a university in another country. Your language skills are solid, you’re well prepared, you’ve done everything right. You arrived a few weeks ago and everything was great, but now it all seems like a HUGE mistake. What went wrong?!

Culture shock is the feeling of confusion or anxiety that comes with living in a new culture. Other symptoms can include being irritable, wanting to be left alone, or being excessively hungry or thirsty. The fact is these symptoms are normal physical reactions to stress. Let’s face it. You have taken a big step in your life and adapting is a process. Let’s say it together “culture shock is normal, and we’re gonna be ok!”

Adapting to a new environment has stages or phases. The first is the Honeymoon phase- everything is wonderful and this was the best decision ever. This is followed by the Negotiation phase- where anxiety and frustration are at their worst. Everything seems wrong and you may question your decision to leave home. Fortunately, this passes and leads to the Adjustment phase. Here you are beginning to understand how things work and are starting to settle into routines. This takes us to the final stage of Adaptation. In this phase, you feel better integrated. You have friends, set routines, and you understand how your new world operates.

So can we skip all of this and go directly to Adaptation?

Probably not, but there are strategies to minimize some of the difficulties in adjusting to your new life.

Be a good observer – Watch the world around you. How do these systems work? Learning how to order a “double double” at Timmy’s can seem daunting, but you can do it. The first step in understanding is observing. This is likely how you learned to do things at home as well.

Stay connected to home – It may seem counterintuitive to travel to a new country just to build strong connections home, but it helps. It’s ok to feel frustrated, and it is ok to share this. To share that you are feeling stressed does not mean that you have made the wrong decision, it just means that you are a normal person doing something new and difficult. Your connection home can help you adapt to someplace new.

Do something that reminds you of home – If you are feeling homesick, it’s ok to do something familiar. Just because you are living in a new country does not mean you must give up what you know. Be it a meal or an activity, there is nothing wrong with bringing a little bit of home with you.

Take care of yourself – Be sure you are eating well and getting enough sleep. Many of the symptoms mentioned in the beginning are also symptoms of dehydration! Be sure to take care of the basics.

De-stress – Exercise does wonders to alleviate feelings of stress. Go to the gym, go for a run, do some yoga, or just take a walk. A little physical exertion can bring mental relief.

Make friends – One of the reasons you decided to study abroad was to meet new people. Don’t wait until you are feeling lonely or isolated to reach out and make friends. It is likely that everyone around you is in a similar situation and is eager to meet someone new. One way to do this is through an activity as mentioned above – or a hobby. Be brave – join a group – as then you’ll meet people with a common interest and topic of conversation.

Use your networks – Your connections home and your friends are mentioned above, but you have other resources as well, be it a mentor or an organization. If you need help, reach out. Every campus has resources for international students. There are literally many people who want nothing more than to help and support you.

Copyright Ⓒ Juvenis Maxime 2023

Author: Kenneth Knox