Culture shock often occurs when a person leaves the comfort and familiarity of home to move to a new place for studies or work.
The reaction may be both physical and psychological, and some students will probably at some point ask themselves why they chose to leave their familiar surroundings.
It is important then to remember that it is a learning process, and that most students will return with greater self-confidence and the ability to manage in an intercultural environment.
When you arrive at your new university, you will no doubt encounter a multitude of new things. The food is not the same as it is at home, and familiar greetings such as “hello” and “good day”, “thanks”, and “how are you doing” may suddenly give completely different responses than the ones you are used to.
People talk in a strange language and look different. School rules are different, and the way of studying may appear strange and difficult. Even though things seem very similar, they may not be, and suddenly everyday routines and simple actions become difficult and frustrating.
It is often small differences that are most frustrating, as you think you know how to act, but you get a strange response. Your family and friends are very far away.
Research has shown that culture shock often develops in different stages:
• Arrival/ “Honeymoon” Stage: Everything is new and exciting.
• Culture Shock Stage: You start to experience difficulties with everyday things, as they are different from home, such as the language barrier, getting the right food, etc.
• Adapting Stage: You slowly start to understand the new culture and feel more in balance. You feel an urge to belong.
To minimise the effect of culture shock it is important to acknowledge its existence, and to know and pay attention to the symptoms, as well as to keep in mind that it is occurring as part of a learning process.
Some of the typical symptoms of culture shock are:
• Sleeplessness or excessive need of sleep
• Mood changes, powerlessness
• Anger, animosity towards other people
• Idealisation of home culture and development of stereotypes in the new culture
• Loss of self-confidence and insecurity
• Strong longing for family and friends back home
Here are some ideas that may be helpful in dealing with culture shock:
• Accept that you cannot know everything about the new country and the language, and if it is overwhelming, take a break
• Keep an open mind. Try to avoid evaluating others’ behaviour using the standards you would use in your own country
• Try to do things that you did at home, listen to your favourite music and eat familiar food
• Stay in touch with family and friends at home
• Talk to your new friends about your feelings
• Stay active – physical activity often helps!