How you can deal with culture shock

October 27, 2015 | Posted by ECA UK | No Comments »

Studying overseas is a great experience. You’ll meet friends from all over the world, visit new places, and be stimulated by something different pretty much every day. It’s not always plain sailing, though, and there will be challenges along the way that you will need to prepare for, not least the culture shock that will affect all of you at some point.

When you’re feeling uncomfortable about experiencing a new way of life, this is culture shock: it is usually talked about when someone has moved overseas to study or work, and they have difficulty adjusting to their new way of life, their new surroundings, or have trouble adapting to the language barrier. You can also experience culture shock when adapting to a new social environment, or another type of life. Culture shock comes from trying to manage cultural contrasts, and is that attempt to adjust to surroundings or an environment that are completely foreign. If you are feeling culture shock, it is not just you who is suffering from it, as it is something that is very common, and happens to everyone.

You can look at culture shock as a kind of psychological condition, where you feel disoriented by your new, unfamiliar surroundings. It doesn’t always start like that, however, as the first stage of culture shock is usually a ‘honeymoon period’, of finding everything about your new home great. The food, the people, the culture, everything about the new experience seems great. You’ll be spending time with people who speak your language – but who you might discover you don’t have many things in common with – and you’ll be respectful and friendly towards your new hosts. This honeymoon period usually lasts for about three months, by which point all those things you started to like have in fact started to annoy you, and those friendly locals don’t seem so friendly.

This change in opinion is where you start to see culture shock taking shape. The differences between your old culture and your new one become more and more visible, and the excitement that you used to feel has turned into frustration. This period is known as ‘negotiation.’ You will start to feel homesick, and notice that there are cultural and language barriers between yourself and other people. Homesickness can be especially bad if you are missing birthdays, Christmas with your family, or other religious festivals and family time. For international students, the negative aspects can be heightened even more, as you won’t have your family to support you, and you will be outside your usual network of friends. Having to use English in an academic setting can also make the communication and language barriers seem worse than they are, as there is more pressure to use English correctly.

After the three month honeymoon period, you’ll hear lots of people moaning and complaining, about the food, the locals, the trains, in fact pretty much anything. It is easy to be negative and to complain as well, but try not to. And if you can manage this, then you’ll be in the ‘adjustment’ phase or culture shock. This is the light at the end of the tunnel, as you’ll be in a new routine based around your new life, and you’ll have learned new problem-solving skills. You’ll also have learned a lot of new information about the UK to share with others, which makes the whole experience easier to handle. Adjustment doesn’t mean that you’ve ‘gone native’, but it does mean that you have come to learn what to expect in most situations in your new home, and that you have adjusted and to life here.

Once you have learned how to adjust, then the final stage is ‘adaption’, which is seen as being ‘bicultural.’ Not everyone can reach this stage, however, as no one will truly leave their old culture. But adjustment and adaption are the goals, so those who suffer from culture shock need to look at how to reach them.

Everyone is different, of course, so the time frames for each stage will be different, and the things that set off culture shock will be different for each person. The methods of coping will be similar, though, and the first step is research. You need to know what to expect, in terms of life style, food, where you can buy things from home, and also safety. This will make your initial few months, and the transition to your new life, much smoother. It’s always a good idea to keep learning the language, and to try to make friends who are not from your home country. This will help you integrate more into your new surroundings, and you’ll also find that you’ll learn about new cultures and new perspectives, which is one of the reasons people want to go overseas in the first place.

If you find it difficult to meet new people, then try joining societies or clubs at university, where you can learn more about the UK. You’ll also be able to share any difficulties you’re having with your new friends, and that will make them all easier to handle. Of course, try to stay in contact with your friends and family back at home, and try calling instead of messaging. This is much more personable, and you’ll be able to maintain relationships easier. You’ll also be able to meet any new family members that you missed out on, even if it is remotely.

Striking a balance between your old and new life isn’t always easy, and it is a challenge of living overseas. There is a lot to take in, and it will be tempting to hang out with people from the same country as you. The most important thing is to try to enjoy yourself and stay positive, as your study abroad experience is something that you’ll be able to remember for the rest of your life.

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Category: Postgraduate, Undergraduate