Culture shock

Anyone exposed to a new and different culture will experience some degree of culture shock. Upon first arriving, many international students experience a “honeymoon” period; everything seems new and exciting. But once that passes, a sense of discomfort and unease often settles in.

Some common symptoms of this phase include:

• Frustration

• Irritability

• Boredom

• Criticism

• Withdrawal and/or only spending time with fellow countrymen

• Inability to concentrate

• Excessive or compulsive eating or drinking

Knowing the symptoms can help you recognize them quickly and respond to the feelings without allowing them to overwhelm you. It will require effort because you won’t feel like pushing yourself, but you can significantly shorten the amount of time that you experience these negative symptoms by responding proactively.

Virtually all international students experience culture shock to some degree or another. The different lifestyle or pace in this country may overwhelm you, or perhaps the food and/or customs seem very strange. Even getting used to a new climate may seem like a difficult adjustment. Loneliness is another common challenge, since you have probably left behind family and friends, perhaps for the first time. Don’t be surprised to feel homesickness and discouragement.

Add to that your frustrations with the English language, which may sound quite different than the classroom English you studied back home. You also might struggle to understand the accents of the people speaking it, or keeping up with how fast they speak.
People experience culture shock because of mismatched cultural cues and expectations. Unfortunately, when these cues collide, hostility and confusion ensue. Going into your experience as an international student with an open mind will help you see the similarities and differences between your home country and the U.S. without judging them. You can experience something as different without labeling it as inferior, and respect the new culture without denying your own.

How to Prepare
While preparing yourself ahead of time can help you deal with culture shock, you cannot completely avoid going through some level of adjustment. Living and working conditions, as well as the pace of life will all seem totally unlike your familiar world. The more you know about the politics, economics and culture of your destination, the more you can prepare yourself for what to expect when you arrive.

Hopefully, before you ever leave home, you will take the opportunity to study up on the area you will call home in the U.S. The more you know about the environment you will go into, the more you will adapt to and appreciate it when you arrive. Learn about unspoken rules and expectations, social manners and current affairs. Talk to any one you know who has studied in the U.S. and ask them about their experience. Most importantly, go into your adventure with an open mind. Put aside any stereotypes or preconceptions you already have.

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What to expect arriving at the airport in the United States

Culture Shock

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