Culture Shock and Study Abroad
Please note: The following culture shock information and tips for study abroad were obtained with permission from the Diversity Abroad site.
When you go abroad you’re going to experience new cultures, people, food, music and probably a new language. All of the newness combined with the lack of things and people that you are familiar with might cause you to have some anxiety. This type of anxiety is called cultural shock. Expect to experience some degree of cultural shock.
Cultural shock can be categorized into four stages. It is important to become familiar with each stage and learn how to recognize the stage and utilize coping mechanisms for each.
Think of the first stage of cultural shock as the honeymoon stage. This occurs in the first few days of you arriving in your host country. During the honeymoon stage you will be poised to take on the challenges of living abroad.
Symptoms of honey moon stage:
- Excitement and euphoria
- General anticipation of everything that you are about to experience
- Everything and everyone you encounter is new and many times exciting
- You’ll probably be eager to learn the language spoken in your host country
After the honeymoon stage your initial excitement may wane. You also may start to feel frustration; this is the onset of the frustration stage. Frustration can occur for various reasons.
Symptoms of the frustration stage:
- Some of your initial excitement dissipates
- Feelings of anxiety, anger and homesickness creep in
- You might reject your new environment and begin to have a lack of interest in your new surroundings
- You’ll become frustrated with trying to speak a foreign language
How to handle the frustration stage
- Don’t blame the host country or its people for your feelings. Your anxiety and frustration happens to millions of people who study, work or travel abroad.
- Remember, you’re in a new environment and getting accustomed takes time. How you handle this frustration that determines how you to grow from your experience abroad.
- Don’t be negative; you’ll only prolong the feelings of frustration.
- Stay positive. Think about the experience you’re having living abroad and learning about new people, food, and culture.
- Try keeping a journal chronicling your experiences.
The understanding stage arrives when you develop a more balanced view of your experience abroad.
Characteristics of the understanding stage
- You become more familiar with the culture, people, food and language of your host country
- You will have made friends
- You become less homesick
- You’ll be more comfortable with speaking and listening to the language spoken in your host country
- You become more comfortable and relaxed in your new environment
- You better handle the situations you previously found frustrating
During the acclimation stage you will begin to feel like you really belong in your new environment. Once you reach the acclimation, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you can live successfully in two cultures; this is a huge milestone.
Characteristics of the acclimation stage
- You’ll be able 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