Culture Shock

Culture shock is a period of ups and downs typically experienced when moving to a new culture.  The process is different for each individual and can vary in onset, length, sequence and severity. It helps to be familiar with the stages of culture shock since knowing about it can ease the process. 

Typical symptoms may include physical and emotional changes such as:

  • Homesickness
  • Feeling like a child
  • Disliking the new culture
  • Stress
  • Frequent crying, or feeling like crying
  • Changes in appetite or energy levels
  • Sleeplessness
  • Lasting feeling of sadness
  • Headaches or stomachaches

Over time the feelings and symptoms will dissipate, but there are a number of tips and tricks for hastening the adjustment process.  Be proactive in getting to know your new environment.  Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new whenever you have the opportunity.  Keep an open mind and a healthy sense of adventure.  If you find yourself in a low place where you are having difficulty coping, or you are experiencing severe symptoms of culture shock, seek counseling immediately. 

In U.S. culture where individuals often live apart from the social support network of family and friends, it is normal to seek counseling in times of emotional distress.  There are many caring, qualified professionals such as social workers (M.S.W.), psychologists (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) or psychiatrists (M.S. in psychiatry) who can listen and provide the support you need to help you through a period of difficulty.

Adjusting to U.S. Life

Staying positive and open to new experiences helps when going through any period of adjustment. Initial difficulties are common when adjusting to a new environment.

Here is some advice for dealing with and lessening the effects of adjustment:

  • Get to Know the Community

    Learn about your environment through exploration. Learn about what is going on beyond the campus. Take a walk in the park. Try a local restaurant. Go to the movies.

  • Ask Questions, and Don't Be Afraid to Try

    To experience a new culture and learn from it, it is important to be open to new experiences, try new things, and be curious about the way things are done. If you are confused by something, ask how it is done in the U.S. Most people will be happy to teach you about their country and customs.

  • Find People to Interact With

    Don't live in isolation from others. Invite someone in your class to coffee. By taking an interest in other people, you shift the focus from yourself to the outside world. 

  • Establish a Routine

    There is comfort in the familiar. Eat and sleep normal hours. Have regular mealtimes. Join a sports club or a discussion group or do at least one activity you look forward to on a regular basis at the same time each week.

  • Get Physical Exercise

    A healthy body promotes a healthy mind and is a great way to relieve stress.

  • Visit the International Student Services Office

    The ISSO staff is here to help answer your questions and concerns. This is your office. 

Getting to Know Americans

Staying positive and open to new experiences helps tremendously when going through any period of adjustment.  Initial difficulties are common when adjusting to a new environment, no matter how experienced you may be.  In the context of an unfamiliar culture (and possibly language), a new home, a new school, new employment, and new community will take time to get accustomed to. 

Making friends with American can help you adjust to life in the U.S. and expose you to the U.S. culture. The Home Away From Home program matches new international students with upper class students. If you are interested in having being paired with an upper class student, join the Home Away From Home program.