Get Over It! Managing Culture Shock Abroad

The spring will soon arrive and many of you are preparing to go abroad.  What you need to remember is that when you go abroad, you will experience new cultures, people, food, music, and probably a new language. All of the “newness” plus the lack of familiar surroundings and people might cause you to have some anxiety, which is called culture shock. Culture shock can be put into four stages. Once you become familiar with these stages, you will be better able to cope with it.

1.   Honeymoon Stage Think of the first stage of culture shock as the honeymoon stage. This occurs in the first few days of arriving in your host country. Symptoms of the honeymoon stage 

  • Excitement and euphoria
  • Anticipation of everything that you are about to experience
  • Fascination with everything and everyone you encounter
  • Eagerness to learn the language spoken in your host country
  • During the honeymoon stage, you will be eager to take on the challenges of living abroad.

2.   Frustration Stage After the honeymoon stage, your initial excitement may wane. You may also start to feel irritated, signaling the onset of the frustration stage. Frustration can occur for various reasons. Symptoms of the frustration stage

  • Some of your initial excitement dissipates
  • Feelings of anxiety, anger and homesickness creep in
  • You might reject your new environment and begin to have a lack of interest in your new surroundings
  • You become frustrated with trying to speak a foreign language

How to handle the frustration stage

  • Don’t blame the host country or its people for your feelings. Anxiety and frustration happens to millions of people who study, work, or travel abroad.
  • Remember, you are in a new environment and getting accustomed takes time. How you handle this frustration determines how you grow from your experience abroad.
  • Don’t be negative; you will only prolong the feelings of frustration.
  • Stay positive. Think about the experience you’re having while living abroad and learning about a new culture, people, and food.
  • Try keeping a journal chronicling your experiences.

3.   Understanding Stage The understanding stage arrives when you develop a more balanced view of your experience abroad. Characteristics of the understanding stage

  • You become more familiar with the culture, people, food and language of your host country
  • You have made friends
  • You feel less homesick
  • You become more comfortable with speaking and listening to the language spoken in your host country
  • You feel more relaxed in your new environment
  • You better handle the situations you previously found frustrating

4.   Acclimation Stage During the acclimation stage you will begin to feel like you really belong in your new environment. Characteristics of the acclimation stage

  • You are able to compare the good and bad of your host country with the ups and downs of your home country
  • You feel less like a foreigner and more like the host country is your second home
  • You laugh about things that frustrated you at the earlier stages of culture shock

Once you reach the acclimation stage, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you can live successfully in two cultures; this is a huge milestone.

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You’re The First In Your Family To Study Abroad? You Better Be Prepared!

Being a first generation student to study abroad can be an overwhelming experience, however, you do not have to go it alone.  In preparing for study abroad, here are a few tips to help you successfully navigate the process:

  1. Talk to Your Advisors and Fellow Students:  When preparing to study abroad, seek advice from people at your current university or college.  Generally, most study abroad advisors are open to discussing studying abroad with students.  In addition, talk to students who have already studied abroad.  They can give you firsthand advice about the process of living abroad. Some universities have organizations specifically focused on advising and preparing students to study abroad.
  1. Personal Research:  Do personal research by reading books about study abroad. There are many books available that can guide you through many of the issues you will face during your studies in your host country.  Of course, books may not answer all your questions, but they are a good place to start.
  1. Find Support:  Once abroad, it is important to have a support unit in place.  Form a cohort with other students in your program.  Having a group to work with will provide you with the support needed to successfully navigate your program.
  1. Take Advantage of Opportunities: Do not return from your program abroad without taking advantage of international opportunities. While abroad, your uniqueness will be a great icebreaker to help you make friends with locals.

Having support and information before and after studying abroad can go a long way in helping you prepare for your time abroad.  Use the study abroad search function to find a program that works for you.