Culture shock is the sense of confusion, uncertainty, and possible anxiety that people experience when moving to or experiencing a new culture.  An important thing to remember is that it is normal to experience such feelings, no matter who you are or where you are from.  Culture shock affects different people in different ways and for varying amounts of time.  One of the ways to combat culture shock is to learn about what it is so that one can recognize it, as well as to have strategies to minimize its effect. 

Common Symptoms of Culture Shock:

  • Fatigue: an inability to find the energy to do everyday tasks; feeling overwhelmed by even the smallest of issues; difficulty with course work and concentration
  • Hyperirritability: getting angry easily; inappropriate outbursts of anger; frequent mood swings
  • Sleep and eating disturbances (too little or too much): having different sleeping and eating routines than normal
  • Disorientation and isolation: withdrawing from social activities; feelings of loneliness; unsure of one’s status or role in the new culture
  • Extreme homesickness: strong urge to leave and go back home
  • Negative feelings toward your host culture: stereotyping the local people and strongly criticizing the culture; wanting to withdraw from the local culture
  • Anxiety or Depression: feeling of helplessness and a lack of motivation to do things one used to enjoy; feeling unsure of one’s ability to adapt in the new culture

Classical 4 Phases of Culture Shock:

Not all people will go through all stages and the time spent in a particular phase will be different for different people.

  1. Honeymoon Phase:  In this phase, everything in the new culture is fresh, exciting and interesting.
  2. Frustration Phase: This phase is characterized by a rejection of the host culture. A person becomes annoyed with everyday/common differences.  Feelings of confusion and irritation are overwhelming here.
  3. Adjustment/Recovery Phase: During this phase, one will start to find a balance between the honeymoon and frustration phase.
  4. Adaptation/Acceptance Phase: In this phase, a person begins to accept the new culture and might even adopt certain cultural behaviors from the host culture.  Simply, the person will have enough of a familiarity with the culture to be able to function and flourish. 

Strategies to cope with culture shock: 

  • Learn as much as you can about your host country (before and during your time abroad).
  • Find something about the host country that you enjoy every day.  Get involved in some aspect of the new culture.  Travel and explore in the new country. 
  • Make a local friend. You will learn a lot from this friend and this will help you to better perceive the host culture.  Do not lean too heavily on being with people from your own culture, although having someone from your country/culture to talk with can help too.   
  • Be conscious about maintaining your health, especially regarding eating and sleeping.  In essence, take care of yourself.  Join a gym, a club team or a student group to pursue a personal interest. 
  • Be flexible---make that a motto of your time overseas.  Also, be patient with yourself.  Give yourself time to adjust to the new culture and realize that these unpleasant feelings will pass.
  • Talk to someone, like a mentor, friend, teacher or parent.  Maintain contact with family and friends back home.  Tell them about your experiences and problems, which can help to sort through them.  Talking with someone can help you process your experience and understand it more. 

The ISS staff is more than happy to help in anyway and talk about the issues you have been facing.  Please be aware that the UIS Counseling Center has trained professionals to help deal with mental health crises, like depression and anxiety.  Do not hesitate to contact the Counseling Center if your culture shock becomes serious and detrimental to your mental health. 

Links & Videos:

Please see the links below to learn more about culture shock, along with some interesting videos!

1. International Student

2. Study in the USA

3. Shorelight

4. Tedx Talks by Kristofer Gilmour and the three steps to culture comfort (YouTube-video)