While You're Away

Culture Shock Is Real

No amount of planning can prepare you for the cultural adjustment period that takes place after you first arrive.

Living in a new culture can be exhilarating, personally rewarding, and intellectually stimulating.

It can also be frustrating.

It is one thing to visit a country, and it is quite another to live there, independently, and function according to a different and sometimes mysterious set of norms.

Don't be surprised when you find yourself experiencing some aspects of Culture Shock, as outlined below.

Preliminary stage: this stage includes awareness of the host culture, preparation for the journey and farewell activities.

Initial euphoria: The initial euphoria stage begins with the arrival in the new country and ends when this excitement wears off.

Irritability: During this stage you will be acclimating to your setting, producing frustration.

It is often caused by having difficulty in coping with the elementary aspects of everyday life when things still appear foreign. Your focus will likely turn to the differences between the host culture and your home.

One typical reaction against culture shock is to associate mainly with other North Americans, but remember, you are going abroad to get to know the host country, its people, culture, and language.

If you avoid contact with nationals of the host country, you cheat yourself and lengthen the process of adaptation.

Gradual adjustment: When you become more used to the new culture, you will slip into the gradual adjustment stage. You may not even be aware that this is happening.

You will begin to orient yourself and be able to interpret subtle cultural cues. The culture will become familiar to you.

Adaptation and multiculturalism: Eventually you will develop the ability to function in the new culture.

Your sense of “foreignness” diminishes significantly.

Not only will you be more comfortable with the host culture, but you may also feel a part of it.

Once abroad, establish routines that incorporate both the difficult and enjoyable tasks of the day or week.

Treat yourself to an occasional indulgence such as an American magazine or newspaper, a favorite meal or beverage, or a long talk with other Americans experiencing the same challenges.

Keep yourself healthy through regular exercise and eating habits. Accept invitations to activities that will allow you to see areas of the host culture outside the university and meet new people. Above all, try to maintain your sense of humor.

Re-entry: The re-entry stage occurs when you return to your homeland. For some, this can be the most painful stage of all. Please see the section "When You Return Home" for information.