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Recognizing Culture Shock and Tips to Overcome It

There is a universal phenomenon which takes place amongst international students about four to six weeks into the first semester.

Culture shock hits hard.

Orientation and all the busy activities that go with it are over, classes have begun, the work is getting more difficult, and mid-term exams are looming.

It doesn’t help that in many places in the U.S. the days are getting shorter, darker, and colder.

You may find your mood dropping and even be wondering if you have chosen the right school.

Homesickness is pulling you down.

Some typical reactions to culture shock are:

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of self-doubt
  • Physical ailments such as stomach or headache
  • Crying spells
  • Irritability
  • Change in sleep or eating patterns

The good news is that culture shock is a normal and expected part of any cultural adjustment. Knowing what to expect and understanding that it is predictable, expected, and temporary will help you get through it.

Here are some other things you can do to overcome culture shock:

  • Do things you enjoy
  • Get out, see people, and do things
  • Identify the positive
  • Don’t disparage your host culture or people
  • Invite a friend for a visit
  • Find out where to shop for your favorite foods
  • Do something nice for someone else
  • Know it is coming and it is normal and expected
  • Give in to homesickness by having a good cry. Homesickness is actually a form of grief. You need to spend time grieving over all you have left behind. It is healthy and will help you move forward.

Tina Quick, often referred to as the “Transitions Expert,” is the author of Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. and The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.

Tina is a cross-cultural trainer and international speaker who works closely with international schools, colleges and universities around the world. She is the founder of International Family Transitions, a consultancy that aims to, among other things, recognize and bring to the forefront issues facing students in global transition.

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