Culture Shock

Once exchange youths arrive at their new host family’s home, they often experience an adjustment period referred to as culture shock. Moving to a new country is an exciting but also 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 stay 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 the exchange youth is experiencing the differences between his or her own culture and that of the host country.

Most people go through three very similar stages when adapting to a new culture. Some of us are able to go through the process quicker and with less stress, while others go through these stages and find it difficult to adjust.

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

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.

Phase II – The Rejection
  • You may miss your usual ways of dealing with school, family, friends and other relationships and your everyday life.
  • You may find yourself indoors for hours, perhaps studying longer than your classmates 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.
Phase III – The Recovery
  • It is important to understand that as some 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.
  • Learn as much as you can about your host culture.
  • Keep an open mind; it is natural to have preconceived ideas and beliefs that come into question while abroad.
  • Do not isolate yourself.
  • Try to get to know others in your host neighbourhood or perhaps host (language) school.
  • Athletic activities like team sports or taking walks may be helpful.
  • If you can, find a local person with whom you can discuss your frustrations and encounters.
  • Maintain a support structure with others, particularly those going through the same experience. However, do not retreat into a “clique” to avoid the discomfort of culture shock.
  • Try keeping a journal. Record your impressions of new experiences and the transformations that are occurring within you.

 


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