Study Abroad: Adjusting to a New Culture

Culture Shock

Once abroad you may face an adjustment period referred to as “culture shock.” Moving to a new country can be a very stressful experience. Everything is unfamiliar; from weather, landscape and language to food, fashion, values, and customs.

The degree of “shock” depends on such factors as length of study abroad, flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, degree of difference between home and host culture, prior experience abroad and his or her expectations. Culture shock is a normal part of study abroad, and it shows that your daughter or son is experiencing the differences between American culture and that of the host country.

Symptoms of culture shock can include:

  • homesickness;
  • depression;
  • feeling lost and out of place;
  • frustration;
  • irritability;
  • and fatigue.

The following information may be helpful to understand the three phases that occur in culture shock:

Three Phases of Culture Shock

Phase I: The Honeymoon

Phase II – The Rejection

Phase III – The Recovery

Ways to Diminish Feelings of Culture Shock

  • Plunge into your host culture and wrestle with the differences.
  • Keep an open mind; it is natural to have preconceived ideas and beliefs that come into question while abroad.
  • Athletic activities like team sports or taking walks may be helpful.
  • Get to know others at your host school or organization.
  • Do not isolate yourself.
  • Find a local person with whom you can discuss your frustrations and encounters.
  • Learn as much as you can about your host culture.
  • Maintain a support structure with others, particularly those going through the same experience. However, do not retreat into an American “clique” to avoid the discomfort of culture shock.
  • Keep a journal. Record your impressions of new experiences and the transformations that are occurring within you.

Source: U.S. Department of State: exchanges.state.gov

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