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Cultural Adjustment

All new student's first days are one's of adjustment. For international students and students studying or researching abroad, adjustment is often more difficult as one must become familiar with a new culture, a new college campus, a new city, and sometimes also another language. Cultural adjustment often includes a series of highs and lows that are quite normal and can vary depending upon one's adaptability, knowledge of the host culture, and the degree of difference from your home culture as compared to the host culture.

Commonly Theorized Stages of Cultural Adjustment for both Entry to U.S. and Re-Entry to Home Country

Progression through the stages is not necessarily linear; you can fluctuate between stages—progress forward one minute and fall backwards the next minute based on context and experiences.

  • Honeymoon Stage
    • Everything is exciting, new, and predominantly positive
  • Culture Shock/Conflict
    • Unsure of customs
    • Overwhelmed, anxious, confused, irritable, hostile
  • Recovery and Understanding
    • Flexible, open to new experiences
    • Better understanding of host environment
    • Developing social network
  • Adjustment
    • Able to maintain home cultural practices/beliefs and accept or incorporate new cultural practices/beliefs

Culture Shock
An emotional and psychological response to the stresses of living in and adjusting to a new environment and or culture. It often refers to the anxiety and uncertainly experienced due to a separation from one's culture, family and support system and the task of adjusting to a new culture.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Culture Shock

- Anxiety - Lack of Energy - Overly Critical
- Homesickness - Lack of Focus - Intense Feelings of Loyalty to Home Country
- Sadness/ Depression - Changes in Sleep Patterns - Exaggerated Cleanliness or Disorganization
- Withdrawal from Others - Changes in Appetite - Loss of Enjoyment in Daily Activities
- Irritability - Headaches - Loss of Self-Confidence/ Insecurity
- Loneliness - Upset Stomach - Dependence on Fellow Nationals
- Short-tempered - Hostility - Defensiveness

Living Through Culture Shock

- Keep an Open Mind - Observe, Research, and Ask Questions about U.S Culture
- Try to be Flexible and Patient - Keep a Journal or Blog
- Try to be Optimistic - Think Through Your Feelings Establish a Routine
- Keep a Good Sense of Humor - Stay in Contact with Family/Friends/News from Home But Do Not Let It Interfere with Your Immersion in the Local Culture
- Don't Make Evaluative Comparisons - Explore, Exercise, and/or Develop a Hobby
- Try to Make Local Friends -Talk to Someone about How You are Feeling
Make an Appointment to Meet with the Senior Counselor to Talk About How You Feel
- Establish a Routine

- Try to get Involved On-Campus or in the Community

Reverse Culture Shock
An emotional and psychological response to the stresses of re-entering your home culture and re-acclimating yourself generally related to an idealized notion of home and an expectation that nothing has changed at home while you were away.

Reverse culture shock can be far more severe than initial culture shock because people typically do not anticipate it or prepare for it. In general, the severity of reverse culture shock is related to generally characterized by the amount of time you have spent in the host culture and the degree to which you have changed as a result of the experience. The symptoms are often the same symptoms as those noted above for culture shock.

Living Through Reverse Culture Shock

  • Continue to reflect on your experiences and their significance
    • Continue to journal or blog
    • Consider creating a scrapbook of your experience
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Let sharing of experiences be a mutual process
    • Be prepared to listen to the stories and updates offered by your friends and family who did not travel abroad and avoid dominating the conversation
  • Be prepared to do the necessary “relationship work”
    • You have likely changed as a result of your experiences abroad
  • Seek others who have had similar experiences
    • Connect with international students and other students who have studied abroad
    • Join international or country-specific groups on-campus and in the community (e.g., Mix it Up)
  • Find opportunities to use the language, knowledge, and skills you learned abroad on-campus and in the community
    • Seek international internships and additional educational opportunities (e.g. Fulbright, Peace Corps)
    • Join the ESF Language Bank (Multicultural Affairs Office) or research language tutoring opportunities
  • Stay in touch with friends made abroad

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