Culture Shock

Adjusting to another culture

As an international student, you will find that there are many differences between how things are done in the United States and in your own country. Personal interaction between people, verbal and nonverbal communication, etc., are some of the ways you may notice some differences. Give yourself time to adjust to living in the United States. You may also experience a phenomenon known commonly as "culture shock."

Culture shock is not quite as shocking or as sudden as most people expect. It is part of the process of learning a new culture. You may experience some discomfort before you are able to function well in a new setting. This discomfort is the "culture shock" stage of the adaptation process.

Just as you will bring with you to the United States clothes and other personal items, you will also carry invisible "cultural baggage" when you travel. That baggage is not as obvious as the items in your suitcases, but it will play a major role in your adaptation abroad. Cultural baggage contains the values that are important to you and the patterns of behavior that are customary in your culture. The more you know about your personal values, the better prepared you will be to see and understand the cultural differences you will encounter abroad.

Adjusting to a new culture - some tips

Stages of adjustment

Studying abroad means making big changes in your daily life. Generations of students have found that they go through a predictable series of stages as they adjust to living abroad.

Coping with culture shock

The most effective way to combat culture shock is to step back from a given event that has bothered you, assess it, and search for an appropriate explanation and response. Try the following:

Will I lose my own culture?

Sometimes students worry about "losing their culture" if they become too well adapted to the host culture. Don't worry: it is virtually impossible to lose the culture in which you were raised. In fact, learning about the new culture often increases your appreciation for and understanding of your own culture. Don't resist the opportunity to become bicultural; that is, able to function competently in two cultural environments.

Just as culture shock derives from the accumulation of cultural clashes, so can an accumulation of small successes lead to more effective interactions within the new culture. As you increase your abilities to manage and understand the new social system, practices that recently seemed so strange will become less puzzling. Eventually you will adapt sufficiently to do your best in your studies and social life and to relax and fully enjoy the experience. And you will recover your sense of humor!