International Students & Culture Shock

What is “Culture Shock?”

  • Culture shock refers to the anxiety experienced by an individual when changes occur in his/her environment. These changes include the absence of familiar surroundings, family, and support systems while confronted with the task of assimilating to a new culture.
  • Culture shock may be experienced by any person who spends an extended period of time in a new or different culture. The new culture’s signs, symbols, and social cues can produce frustration and anxiety.
  • The shock of adjustment is normal and perhaps universal.
  • Culture shock can be experienced in stages.

Common Signs & Symptoms of Culture Shock

  • Anxiety, sadness, depression
  • Frustration, despair, and disorganization
  • Anger, confusion, loneliness
  • Loss of appetite, changes in sleep patterns, tearfulness
  • Lack of energy, loss of enjoyment in daily activities, withdrawal from others
  • Headaches, stomach pains

Stages of “Culture Shock”

This is characterized by exhilaration, discovery and anticipation. Perceptions are positive. Emotions include excitement and euphoria.

The novelty wears off and host culture begins to intrude on the visitor’s life. This stage is characterized by confusion, frustration, loss, depression and withdrawal.

The individual is likely to disregard both similarities and the differences between the host culture and the home culture. This stage is characterized by hostility, defensive behavior, feelings of vulnerability, rebellion, blame, rejection of all that host culture represents.

This is the hopeful stage. The person begins to establish an objective, balanced and impartial view of the situation and experience. There is a new sensitivity to the host culture and greater awareness of self and others. The person is less dependent on others and is more relaxed.

This stage aims at the goal of a bi-cultural or multicultural identity. This stage is characterized by a sense of belonging, trust, and sensitivity to the host culture.

How to Cope with “Culture Shock”

  • Know that your reactions are normal
  • Speak with someone at the International Student Office
  • Seek professional help if needed (see Counseling Services)
  • Seek other new and returning international students for support
  • Seek American students who can help you learn about their culture
  • Join a student organization such as: International Student Association (ISA), etc.
  • Join a study group
  • Talk to your advisors and professors about expectations and academic goals
  • Work at being flexible, patient and open-minded
  • Keep a sense of humor

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