Culture Shock and Adjustment
Living and learning overseas successfully usually means adjusting to a different lifestyle, food, climate and time zone, and it often involves having to learn to communicate in a foreign language. This process is never easy and can include changes in your mood, alternating between exhilaration and excitement about new experiences and some homesickness and frustration about the challenges you are facing adjusting to living in a different country. It helps to be aware that these feelings are a natural and essential part of adjusting to a foreign culture.
Knowing what you might expect when you first arrive in your host country can ease the effects of culture shock and help you make the most of the experience from the start. The internet has valuable resources for learning about all aspects of other countries. Talk with us and to students who have studied abroad before in your host country as well as international students from there.
Managing Culture Shock
- Be aware of cultural differences, but do not view them with an “us” versus “them” perspective.
- Try not to be negative and critical—go out and do something. Keep yourself busy doing things you enjoy. When you have free time, visit parks, museums, go to movies, tour local sites of interest, and meet people in your host country.
- Look for the best, not the worst. If you allow yourself to have a positive state of mind, your attitude will follow.
- Identify one thing that reminds you of home in your host country to help ease the culture shock.
- Keep an open mind. Unmet expectations create disappointments.
- Embrace your sense of humor.
- Keep in touch with your family and friends at home – this can help you feel less isolated.
You will probably find that after the first few weeks, as you begin to understand your host culture better, the symptoms of culture shock slowly disappear. However, if you find that feelings of irritability or depression remain, you may need help from a doctor or counselor. Your program director or the international student office at your host university should be able to direct you to counseling or support organizations. Fordham's Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) Office can also provide some resources for you.
Challenges of a New Culture
Your study abroad experience will be heightened if you pay attention to the local social environment. In many ways, the key to adapting to the new environment is your ability to quickly understand what behavior is and is not appropriate and make necessary adjustments. Observe local students and don’t be afraid to ask questions about local customs. In fact, most people will appreciate that you are trying to learn about their culture and lifestyle, and are likely to help you adjust.
It also may help to realize that most students at host universities abroad, or the general public, might be highly informed about world issues. They may be ready with all sorts of questions and opinions for you to listen to and consider. Knowledge about political and social and cultural conditions in your destination will be of great use in your attempt to integrate and make friends with local people.
Keeping up with political and cultural happenings in the U.S. will also be helpful, as you can expect that in a foreign environment you will occasionally be put in the position of being a spokesperson for the US and American culture. Topics such as politics, the economy, the environment, and religion are taken very seriously by many foreign university students.