One of the most common challenges international students face is dealing with “culture shock.” Culture shock is a feeling of disorientation many people feel when experiencing an entirely new way of life. Many international students find it difficult to adjust to the culture of their host country, so we are here to help you deal with culture shock and make the most of your experience abroad.
Before you leave to study in the US, make sure you’re familiar with the typical symptoms of culture shock so you can recognize and combat it early on. These symptoms generally include:
- Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
- Preoccupation with health
- Aches, pains, allergies
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Changes in mood, depression, feeling vulnerable
- Anger, irritability, resentment
- Loss of identity
- Lack of confidence
- Obsessions over cleanliness
- Longing for family
- Feelings of being lost or overlooked
Studying internationally is a new experience for everyone, and with new experiences come new challenges. You may occasionally feel confused, unsure and uncomfortable in the United States. People may have different values and new ways of doing things that seem strange to you. You may feel that everything has changed, including your immediate support system of family and friends.
To minimize the shock, you will probably want to keep in touch with family and friends back home—but it is important to also identify new sources of support. People whom you meet through your school’s international student office may also be a likely source of support. You could also contact relatives or friends who live in the United States to ask for their advice.
It might be a good idea to research American Culture before you leave, in order to minimize the shock upon your arrival.
Combatting Culture Shock
If you are an international student experiencing culture shock, here are some tips that might help ease your transition:
- Remind yourself that everything you're feeling is perfectly normal
- Keep in touch with your friends and family back home via email, text, or telephone
- Surround yourself with familiar items, such as photos or ornaments
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet; try to find familiar food
- Some students find faith or relgious communities helpful; many chaplaincies welcome students of all faiths for pastoral or social activities
- Maintain contact with your ethnic group as well as with local students
- Look for activities that will put you in contact with other students who share your interests
- Maintain your confidence in yourself; follow your ambitions and continue your plans for the future
- Find out what services on your campus offer help for international students dealing with culture shock, and reach out to them
You may also want to maintain a few habits here in the States. Perhaps you could continue to practice your own faith on a regular basis, with a group of like-minded individuals. Or maybe you enjoy jogging, playing chess, or cheering for your favorite sports team. While the activity will most likely be somewhat "Americanized," it may offer comfort to do some of the things that you enjoyed doing in your home country. Exercising regularly has been found to be an excellent way to combat depression, so you might consider working regular physical activity into your daily schedule.
During the transition from your home country to the U.S., new support will most likely come from the admissions office or international student office at the U.S. campus you choose to attend. Most offices coordinate orientation sessions for new students within the first few days of your arrival, to help you get acquainted with your new surroundings.
Other forms of support will come from new friends, an academic advisor or psychological counseling centers. In the U.S., many schools have therapists who have been trained to work with people just like you to discuss the types of new challenges you face.
A great way to build up a personal support system is to get involved in the social aspects of your campus. Research the clubs and organizations on your school’s website, and you’ll be sure to find at least one group full of people who share your interests, whether they be sports, theatre, environmentalism, or knitting. This is an excellent way to make friends with like-minded people, and you will be feeling more at home in no time.
Most importantly, be prepared to open yourself to new experiences; be prepared to learn, not only in the classroom, but in your interactions with new people everyday.
This short video presentation from an international student at Columbia University in the USA is a fantastic viewpoint on "Culture Shock" and the phases you go through as an international student.
Part 1 - Culture Shock Presentation
Part 2 - Culture Shock Presentation
Remember that everything you’re feeling is completely normal, and you are never alone. There are always resources available to you. If you find yourself struggling with culture shock, it might be a good idea to visit your school’s website and learn what kind of services they offer for international students who have trouble adjusting.
Did You Know? Culture shock doesn’t just affect people in new countries; many students find that they experience a type of culture shock after they return home, too. This is known as reverse culture shock. Learn more about reverse culture shock