» Culture Shock

Students will experience new cultures, people, food, music and probably a new language when they go abroad. Before students start to understand and appreciate the differences of their host-country, they usually experience some culture shock. Culture shock is a logical reaction to differences we encounter in a foreign culture.  Even if you are going to a country that may feel familiar such as the UK or Australia, there will be differences from the U.S.

Everyone who goes through the process of adapting to a new culture experiences some degree of culture shock, anticipate this as a normal part of your study abroad experience. When you become familiar with these stages, you will be better equipped to combat it. (Sources: DiversityAbroad.com and StudyAbroad.com)

The various phases which you might find yourself going through in this process include:

Toggle Section

Honeymoon Phase

In the first few days of arriving on your host country you will most likely be filled with excitement and euphoria at all of the new experiences that await you. When you are unfamiliar with the language spoken in your host country, you will probably be eager to learn it.

During the honeymoon stage you will be eager to take on the challenges of living abroad.

Culture Shock Phase

After the first stage of excitement, you may start to feel frustration. This frustration occurs because some of your initial excitement wanes because of misunderstandings, or feelings of anxiety arise. Homesickness may also start to creep in and you might reject your new environment. You will become frustrated with trying to speak a foreign language, and you may even feel that you have lost some of your identity because you cannot fully communicate what it is you would like to say.

You can combat this frustration stage by remembering that you are in a new environment and that getting accustomed takes time. Do not blame the host country or its people for your feelings. Try to stay positive; if you focus on the negative aspects, you will only prolong this stage. Try to keep a journal chronicling your experience. The way you deal with this stage, will determine how you will grow from your experience abroad.

Understanding Phase

The third stage starts when you develop a more balanced view of your experience abroad and your host countries culture. Personal reflection may be a large platform which got you to this point. You will become more familiar with the culture, people, food and language of your host country. You will have made friends, become more comfortable in your independence, and experience less homesickness. You’ll be more comfortable with speaking and listening to the language spoken in your host country. In general, you become more relaxed in your environment. Situations that you previously found frustrating become less stressful.

Acclimation Phase

During the acclimation stage you will begin to feel like you really belong or have found your niche in your new environment. You will start to compare the good and bad of your host country with the good and bad of your home country. You feel less like a foreigner and more like your host country is your second home. You laugh about things that frustrated you at earlier stages of cultural shock.

Once you reach the acclimation stage, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you can live successfully in two cultures; this is a huge milestone and one of the greatest rewards of studying abroad.

Coping with Culture Shock

Here are some general tips for making the most out of your study abroad experience. They may help ease the culture adjustment to your host culture.

  • Do not expect to find things as you have them at home.
  • Relax. Do not worry too much and don’t take anything too seriously. When you keep an open mind, you will enjoy the experience the most.
  • Travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to meet and talk with local people.
  • Realize that people have different habits and customs. For example, the concept of time differs markedly from country to country. Do not judge differences, but rather try to appreciate them. Many other languages and customs can seem gruff to Americans, who tend to pad with tone and phrasing.
  • Spend some time reflecting on your daily experiences, this will deepen your understanding of your experience and your host culture. Give yourself some quiet time and don’t be too hard on yourself when things are not going perfectly. See your time to yourself as growing through independence.
  • Try to adjust to the rhythm of life in your host culture. Adjust to their time schedule for meals and work. Look for logical reasons behind the host culture patterns. You will discover that most customs fit the culture and are there for a reason.
  • Learn how to manage homesickness while abroad

Reverse Culture Shock

After you have grown accustomed to a new culture, you may experience the same kind of symptoms when you are adjusting back home to your own culture. Before you return home, chances are you’ll feel incredibly anxious in wondering what has changed in the USA! Read the section on Reverse Culture Shock to learn about how to anticipate and overcome these challenges.