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
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Phase I: The Honeymoon

During this initial period participants often feel excited to embark on their new journey. You are open to trying new things and exploring your host country.

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Phase II - The Rejection

  • You may miss your usual ways of dealing with school, work, relationships, and everyday life.
  • You may find yourself studying for hours, longer than your classmates and colleagues because of language differences. If you are trying to speak and listen to a new language every day and trying to understand how things are done, it may feel like an overwhelming effort.
  • You may feel homesick and idealize your life back home, while being highly critical of life in your new community. Feeling frustrated, angry, anxious, or even depressed is not uncommon.
  • You may experience minor health problems and/or disruptions in sleeping and eating patterns.
  • Your motivation may diminish, and you may feel like withdrawing from your new friends. This is a natural reaction to living in a new culture.
  • You may contemplate going home early before completing your program, degree or research.
  • You may be angry at not finding what you had expected.
  • Helping your spouse and children adjust to life in their new culture may pose an additional challenge.
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Phase III - The Recovery

  • It is important to understand that as time passes you will be better able to enjoy your new surroundings.
  • Your feelings and attitudes about living in a new country may improve, but you may never get to the high level experienced during the first phase.
  • You may become more relaxed, regain your self-confidence, and enjoy life in your new country. Major obstacles that occurred in the earlier phases, such as misunderstandings and mistakes, will be easily understood and resolved.

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.

In their own words

Photo of Westmoreland
Shavia W. Participant United States Critical Language Scholarship Program China Read the story

Know Before You Go

Know Before You Go

Make sure to start learning about your destination country before you begin your program. By planning ahead, you can prevent problems later.

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