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culture shock

Most people traveling outside of their own countries experience a level of culture shock – the process of adjusting to a new country and new culture. Even people who have lived in numerous countries experience culture shock every time they go to a new place. Given time, culture shock will lessen.

Be patient.

You will get used to life in the U.S. as you make friends, improve your English and begin to understand the culture more fully. And remember, that you are not the only one experiencing these feelings. For more information about U.S. culture, click here

Culture shock is a very fluid experience. Some days will be great but others will leave you wonder what you are doing here but then the next day will be excellent. In general, culture shock can be described in these four stages: Euphoria, Confrontation, Adjustment, and Adaptation.

The graph below will give you a sense of the fluidity possible with your feelings towards your host culture and culture shock.

MAXSA Culture Shock Graph

The "U-Curve of Culture Shock and Cross-Cultural Adjustment" graph is used with permission from the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota and can be found on page 283 in the following publication:Barbara Kappler Mikk, Andrew D. Cohen, & R. Michael Paige with Julie C. Chi, James P. Lassegard, Margaret Maegher, and Susan J. Weaver (2009). Maximizing study abroad: An instructional guide to strategies for language and culture learning and use. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA). More information about this CARLA publication can be found at:www.carla.umn.edu/maxsa/guides.html

Euphoria aka the “Honeymoon Stage”

During this period, the differences don’t exist or you don’t care about them. Everything is exciting and amazing. You can’t wait to start classes, meet new friends, join clubs, and more. You love EVERYTHING about your host country but you only focus on the visible aspects of the culture like food, clothing, and scenery. Like most honeymoon periods, this stage eventually ends.

Confrontation

After some time (usually one-third to one-half way through an experience), you become less excited about your host environment and become confused and frustrated. You believe you will never learn the language, the culture doesn’t make sense, you’re discouraged, and as an international student, your family will not be here to support you so you become homesick. As such, this is the most difficult stage of adjustment.

But through this entire period, you are making critical progress in becoming cross-culturally aware and have developed strategies to help you cope.

Signs you are dealing with cultural confrontation:

  • Excessive concern over cleanliness
  • Feelings of helplessness and withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Glazed stare
  • Desire for home and old friends
  • Excessive sleep
  • Physiological stress reactions
  • Homesickness
  • Boredom
  • Withdrawal
  • Getting "stuck" on one thing
  • Suicidal or fatalistic thoughts
  • Stereotyping host nationals
  • Hostility towards host nationals
  • Compulsive eating/drinking/weight gain

Tips for dealing with the Confrontation stage:

  • Don't wait for homesickness to go away by itself. Confront your feelings by talking to someone (ISSSOffice of Counseling ServicesSpiritual Life Office, your Resident Advisor, your Resident Director, your Peer Advisor, your Mentor, a family member, roommate, or another student, etc.). It’s likely that another student feels the same as you.
  • Take photos of your new home and show them to your family back home. Explain why you love these photos and what they mean to you.
  • Write in a journal
  • Make friends with locals and invite them to spend time with you
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Get involved by joining clubs on campus
  • Try to limit yourself to one call home every week. Also, do not spend every free minute writing emails home. The sooner you integrate into the university experience, the sooner your homesickness will pass.
  • Limit your use of social media. Learning what your friends are doing at home will make you miss them and feel worse. 

Adjustment

With time, you will grow accustomed to the new culture and develop routines. You understand what is expected of you and can successfully navigate the culture. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal." You may still be homesick but your host culture starts to make sense and you look forward to learning more throughout the rest of your time abroad.

Adaptation

In this final stage, you can effectively and confidently communicate and interact in your host culture. While you still don’t understand everything about the culture, you have still adopted many of its ways to your own. You realize you will miss much of your new environment when you return “home” and start to capitalize on your experience at Western New England University.