Culture shapes the way people see the world and can be thought of as the way in which people preserve societies and meet a range of human needs. Shared belief systems, behaviors, and traditions are only a few factors that make up a culture. It is easy to be unaware of the tremendous impact culture plays in our lives when we are surrounded by individuals who share the same assumptions an shared values. We may experience “culture shock” when we find ourselves in a culture different from the one we are accustomed to.
What Is Culture Shock?
“Culture shock” is a normal process of adapting to a new culture. It is a time when a person becomes aware of the differences and/or conflicts in values and customs between their home culture and the new culture they are in. Common feelings may be anxiety, confusion, homesickness, and/or anger.
Coping with Culture Shock
There are many strategies to cope more effectively while adapting to the changes of a new culture. Different things help different people and often trying more than one strategy can be helpful. The following are some suggestions:
*Spend time listening and talking with someone from the U.S. who can explain common behaviors, language, and customs.
*Connect with other international students (more than likely they are experiencing, or have already experienced, similar situations).
*Stay connected with your home comforts such as foods, activities, rituals, etc…
*Community activities can be a way for you to get involved with other people and feel more involved in the community and culture in which you are in. Connecting with a Resident Assistant, host family, or other individuals may be a way to get you started.
*Balance academic and leisure activities.
*Keep Active. By getting outside of your house or apartment, you are able to experience what other Americans and international students are doing. If you visit public spaces, such as downtown or a sporting event, you will be able to observe cultural customs and behaviors.
*Finding an activity or hobby you enjoy may dramatically reduce stress for you.
*Patience. Keep in mind that culture shock is a normal process which most people experience. Give yourself time and remind yourself that it will not be permanent.
*Collaborate with a mental health professional for support.
When Should I Seek Additional Support?
It is natural for people living in a different culture to feel sad and lonely at times, and to miss their home culture, friends, and family. Sometimes, however, the stress of adapting to a new culture may reach a level in which added support is useful.
Common signs of this stress may include:
- feeling homesick most or all of the time
- feeling lonely much of the time
- feeling sad or anxious much of the time
- crying more often; sometimes for no reason
- experiencing a marked change in sleeping and/or appetite
- experiencing increased unexplained physical problems
- having more “minor illnesses” such as colds, headaches, or stomach pains
- feeling irritable or depressed
- having difficulty concentrating
- experiencing academic difficulties not experienced before
- feeling tension and pressure much of the time
- feeling out-of-control in many aspects of your life
Here are a few resources on campus that may help your transition…