Assisting Students in Need: International Students Experiencing Cultural Adjustment Difficulties

Assisting Students in Need: International Students Experiencing Cultural Adjustment Difficulties

Identifying the Problem:

Most international students (and others who interact in a new culture) experience some form of culture shock at some point during their stay.Feelings of disorientation and confusion often occur when students undertake a program of study in a new culture. It is normal for students to go through a period of cultural adjustment or culture shock. Misunderstandings due to differences in expectations, assumptions, roles, and communication styles can lead to frustrations.


Common symptoms or signs include the following (note that many of these are common reactions to a transition of any kind):

  • fatigue
  • physical symptoms related to stress such as frequent headaches and stomach aches
  • changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • irritability
  • excessive anger, frustration and feelings of emotional disregulation (frequently these negative feelings are directed toward the new culture)
  • tendency to be withdrawn, sad, or lonely
  • feeling the urge to interact almost exclusively with people from one’s own country (with whom one feels the most safe and secure)
  • not feeling like oneself
  • a heightened sense of incompetence
  • feeling overwhelmed by cultural differences

Students who experience culture shock may find it more acceptable to seek medical care rather than counseling services.


How to Respond:

  • ASK:  It can be helpful to an international student about how he or she is adjusting to living in a different culture.
  • NORMALIZE:  Let the student know that other international students also experience challenges when adjusting to the United States. It can help students to know that they are not the only one.
  • ENCOURAGE:  Encourage the student to TALK with other international students about her or his experiences as well as strategies for dealing with cultural shock.
  • INVITE:  Invite the student to ask questions about US cultures, particularly the academic culture within the university.
  • EXPLAIN:  When appropriate, take time to explain US cultural norms around time management, communication etc.
  • RECOMMEND SELF CARE:  Encourage the student to take care of himself or herself: Get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, find opportunities to socialize, and take time for recreational breaks.
  • SUGGEST RESOURCES:  Encourage international students to make use of university resources. Also, discuss the benefits of seeking support from friends and family back home and the need to balance this with developing new support systems – this could be the first time a student has been away from family and friends.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login