Cultural Adaptation

Culture Shock

“Culture Shock” occurs when anxiety levels rise to a critical level due to the differences we encounter when we move from one cultural setting to another. These differences include smells, sounds, flavors, and other sensory stimuli as well as how local people deal with time, communication, status and hierarchy, the rule of law, family and relationships, etc. We both literally and emotionally become disoriented. We lose our sense of direction, our “bearings”. After an initial period of enchantment and excitment in the new cultural, we eventually get tired of the effort involved in dealing with all the differences and long for home and the familiar. This, too, at least in its most severe form, eventually passes, but not before we experience that sense of shock or panic. The whole process is normal, and most people get through it without it becoming incapacitating.

A certain amount of “culture shock” is normal when moving from one culture to another, whether across the world, across the country, or just across town. You should expect it, recognize it, and be prepared to deal with it. If you need help, please do not hesitate to contact the Office of International Student Services or the Counseling Center.

Common Symptoms of Culture Shock

  • Extreme homesickness
  • Desire to avoid social settings that seem threatening or unpleasant
  • Physical complaints and sleep disturbances
  • Depression and feelings of helplessness
  • Difficulty with course work and concentration
  • Loss of your sense of humor
  • Boredom or fatigue
  • Hostility toward the host culture

Dealing with culture shock – step back, assess, search for an appropriate explanation and response

  • Observe how others are acting in the same situation
  • Describe the situation, what it means to your, and your response to it
  • Ask local residents how they would have handled the situation and what it means in the host culture
  • Plan how you might act in this or similar situations in the future
  • Test the new behavior and evaluate how well it works
  • Decide how you can apply what you have learned the next time you find yourself in a similar situation

Throughout the process, take care of yourself

  • Read a book or watch a video in your home language
  • Take a trip
  • Exercise and get plenty of rest
  • Write or phone home
  • Eat good food
  • Do things you enjoy with your friends

Keep in mind that the reactions and perceptions of others toward you, and you toward them, are not personal evaluations but are based on a clash of cultural values. The more skilled you become in recognizing how and when cultural values and behaviors are likely to come in conflict, the easier it becomes to make adjustments that can help you avoid serious difficulties.