Culture Shock

Your stay abroad is going to be a mixture of exciting as well as difficult moments.  It is normal to have ups and downs while adjusting to the cultural differences of your new home. The feeling of anxiety is common as we lose familiar surroundings and have to learn new ways of communicating. Do not be afraid to make mistakes; this is all part of the learning process. Most seasoned travelers have a story or two to tell about a mishap or embarrassing situation. The most important thing is to maintain a positive attitude, remain flexible, and keep an open mind.

Subjectivity and Culture Shock

Not everyone will experience culture shock in the same way or to the same degree. This is a very individual process that you will need to work through in your own way.  Advice from past study abroad participants suggest that the best way to get through the difficult times is to recognize when you are feeling stressed, agitated, depressed, or excessively tired. Take a step back from the situation you are in and re-focus. For some, it is important to do something that they might expect to do at home when stressed such as exercise, write in a journal, spend time with a good friend, or do something else you enjoy.

Culture Shock

Additional Resources

The Glimpse Foundation's Culture Shock acclimation guide is an excellent resource for students preparing to study abroad. While there are no set rules on how one adjusts to a new culture, there are some phases that individuals typically experience in cross-cultural adaptation:

Pre-Departure Phase

Time: Pre-Departure 

General Attitude: Anticipation

Events: Planning, packing, processing, partying, orientation

Emotional Response: Excitement, enthusiasm, nervousness, anxiety, concern about leaving loved ones, desire to leave

Physical Response: Anticipation, loss of interest in current responsibilities

Verbal Response: I can't wait to...

Honeymoon Phase: Weeks 1-4

General Attitude: Exhilaration, euphoria, excitement

Events: Red carpet welcome, living environment, classes/faculty, exploration of sights and shop

Emotional Response: Tourist enthusiasm, sense of adventure

Behavioral Response: Outward curiosity about host nationals, avoidance of negative stereotypes enthusiasm for studies and host institution, passive observer of culture

Physical Response: Intestinal disturbances, minor insomnia

Verbal Response: How quaint, this place is so charming, the people are so nice, this place and the people are a lot like home

 

Increasing Participation Phase

Time: Weeks 5-8

General Attitude: Bewildered, disenchantment, restlessness, impatience 

Events: Classes, homework, everyday life, responsibilities in dorm/homestay, unfamiliar food, manners, language, customs, cost of living

Emotional Response: Qualms, uncertainty, irritability, loss of enthusiasm, skepticism, frustration, questioning of values of self and others

Behavioral Response: Search for security in familiar activities, increased alcohol and/or food consumption, withdrawal

Physical Response: Colds, headaches, tiredness

Verbal Response: "Why do they do it like that?  Why can't they just...?"                    

 

Crisis Phase
Time: Weeks 9-12

General Attitude: Hostility, irritation, aggression

Events: Uneven work performance, confrontation with differences   

Emotional Response: Discouragement, lethargy, depression, anger, extreme sensitivity and irritability, loneliness

Behavioral Response: Withdrawal, avoiding contact with host nationals, excessive sleep, fits of weeping, loss of concentration, tension and conflict with others 

Physical Response: Minor illnesses, headaches, preoccupation, and personal cleanliness

Verbal Response: This place s___s!  I can't wait to go home, use of stereotypes, chauvinism, nationalism, ethnocentrism.  "We" excludes host nationals

 

Adaptation Phase
Time: Weeks 13-20+  

General Attitude: Recovery

Events: Work performance improves, able to interpret cultural clues, can laugh at and tell jokes  

Emotional Response: Sense of comfort with surroundings, sense of belonging, sense of shared fate, biculturalism

Behavioral Response: Ability to see things from perspective of host nationals, empathy 

Physical Response: Normal health     

Verbal Response: "Home" is homestay of dorm room."We" includes host nationals

 

Re-entry Phase
Time: Returning home

General Attitude: Ambivalence

Events: Wanting to share stories about experience and finding others generally not interested

Emotional Response: Mixed-up, disconnected, disoriented, irritability, depression, homesickness for overseas site, uncertainty about home

Behavioral Response: Criticism about home and friends, lethargy, keen interest in foreign affairs and news

Physical Response: Colds, headaches

Verbal Response: "I never realized," or "In ___ we used to..."

(Adapted from the Fulbright Newsletter, 1988)