When a student goes abroad they are going to experience new cultures, people, food, music and probably a new language. All of the newness, combined with the lack of familiar things and people, might cause extreme emotion and/or anxious feelings and thoughts. This fairly common type of experience is called culture shock. Students are likely to experience some level of this while abroad. Because of this, throughout the pre-departure phase, the SAC, alongside the UNI Counseling Center, provides study abroad students support and resources to prevent and respond appropriately to culture shock.
“Just as you can’t really describe the taste of a hot fudge sundae to someone who has never experienced one, it is difficult to actually convey just how disorienting entering another culture can be to a student without any cross-cultural experience.”
-Bruce Black in his article, The Missing Linkage: The Process of Integrating Orientation and Reentry.
The above link will take you to a very valuable tool relative to cultural learning and prepartation. We recommend all participants take the time to go through this online cultural training resource for study abroad students.
Stages of Culture Shock
Cultural shock is often categorized into four stages. Once you become familiar with the stages you will be better able to adjust.
Think of the first stage of cultural shock as the honeymoon stage. This occurs in the first few days of you arriving in your host country. Symptoms of the honey moon stage may include:
- Excitement and euphoria
- General anticipation of everything that you are about to experience
- Everything and everyone you encounter is new and many times exciting
- You’ll probably be eager to learn the language spoken in your host country
- During the honeymoon stage you will be poised to take on the challenges of living broad.
After the honeymoon stage your initial excitement may wane. You also may start to feel frustration; this is the onset of the frustration stage. Frustration can occur for various reasons. Symptoms of the frustration stage may include:
- Some of your initial excitement may dissipate
- Feelings of anxiety, anger and homesickness creep in
- You might reject your new environment and begin to have a lack of interest in your new surroundings
- You’ll become frustrated with trying to speak a foreign language
How to handle the frustration stage:
- Don’t blame the host country or its people for your feelings. Anxiety and frustration happens to millions of people who study, work, or travel abroad
- Remember, you’re in a new environment and getting accustomed takes time.
- Deciding to comfront and handle frustrations will allow you to grow even more from your experience abroad
- Avoid negativity; you’ll only prolong the feelings of frustration.
- Stay positive and involved. Think about the experience you’re having living abroad and continue to learn about new people, food, and culture
- Try keeping a journal, or blog, chronicling your experiences
The understanding stage arrives when you develop a more balanced view of your experience abroad. Characteristics of the understanding stage may include:
- You become more familiar with the culture, people, food and language of your host country
- You will have made friends
- You become less homesick
- You’ll be more comfortable with speaking and listening to the language spoken in your host country
- You become more comfortable and relaxed in your new environment
- You better handle the situations you previously found frustrating
During the acclimation stage you will begin to feel like you really belong in your new environment. Characteristics of the acclimation stage may include:
- You’ll be able to compare the "good and bad" of your host country with the "good and bad" of your home country
- You feel less like a foreigner and more like your host country is your second home
- You laugh about things that frustrated you at earlier stages of cultural shock
Once you reach the acclimation stage, you should have the satisfaction of knowing that you can live successfully in two cultures; this is a huge milestone!