Being far from home can be exciting and scary. Adjusting to a new environment takes a long time. People who cross cultures usually are uncomfortable at first and talk of feeling confused, discouraged, lonely and anxious. As they become more comfortable, however, many people find that learning in a new culture is stimulating and broadening.
Your first task, of course, is to get settled in your new school’s campus community. Things will seem very new for a while. You will establish a new daily routine. You will hear new English words and expressions. You also may adjust to a new climate, new health care procedures, new friends and new communication patterns. You will learn about the campus itself—find important buildings, discover services you can use and learn about registration and enrollment procedures. In short it will be a highly stressful, but exciting, time in your life.
What to Expect?
When you leave your home culture, you separate yourself from the people and circumstances that have defined your role in society. It is possible that you may experience a loss of some of your identity. The impact of this change can be disorienting and discomforting. It is called “culture shock.” Culture shock can manifest itself in several ways.
Some Signs of Culture Shock
- Feelings of anger over minor inconveniences
- Extreme homesickness
- Withdrawal from people who are different from you
- A new and intense feeling of loyalty to your own culture
- An increase or loss of appetite
- Sleep difficulties
- Upset stomach
- Excessive concern over minor pains
- Feeling sick much of the time
- Loss of ability to work effectively
- Unexplainable fits of crying
- Marital stress
- Exaggerated cleanliness
- Difficulty concentrating
This is a long list! You do not need to suffer from every item on the list in order to experience culture shock. Only a few of the items may apply to you.
However, be sure to seek assistance and support if you notice any of these symptoms are preventing you from maintaining your daily routine of going to class, completing assignments, socializing with friends, eating, sleeping or other regular activities.
What to Do?
There is no guaranteed cure for culture shock, but there are several things you can do to ease the symptoms. Trying several of the following suggestions is probably more effective than trying just one, and you may even prevent many of the symptoms of culture shock by following some of these suggestions before you notice any symptoms.
Spend time outside of your room or apartment. Observe Americans in their own culture. Go to shopping centers, parks, libraries and sporting events. Watch. Listen. Learn.
Make American friends
Get acquainted with Americans. Ask questions. Be willing to answer questions about your own culture so that you and your American friends can make interesting comparisons.
Find some physical activity that you can enjoy. Many Americans, you will discover, like to be active. They like to run or walk along pathways in the city parks or on the streets. They also like organized games. Your culture back home may or may hot value physical activity highly, but research shows that there are numerous advantages in a consistent exercise program.
Your adjustment to American culture will be easier if you participate in campus clubs and organizations. Look for groups that interest you. Often there may be student nationality clubs and groups of interest. Attend a meeting or event to see if you’re interested. There is no obligation to join.
Introduce yourself to other international students on campus
They are experiencing many of the same adjustment problems you will face. Talk with them about how they are managing the changes.
Work on your English
One of the most important steps you can take to ease your adjustment is to improve your English. It is much easier to learn the details of American culture when you know how the language is used. Listen for unusual new phrases. Ask about slang terms you don’t understand. Most Americans will gladly explain words or terms that sound new to you.
Remember your family
If you’ve brought your spouse or family with you, remember that they will experience culture shock as well. They, too, will be making difficult adjustments. It will help their transition if you encourage them to take many of the same steps you are taking. If you left your family back home, they will want to hear from you.
Culture shock is something that most international students experience in some way while they’re here. Remind yourself that the problem is not permanent. Simply realize what is happening to you and give yourself time to adjust.