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Posted 11 July 2023

Adjusting Away from Home

Leaving home for school can be an exciting but difficult time in a young person’s life. International students experience when they travel overseas to attend a 4-year university. A common phrase used when describing international students’ first-year experience is culture shock.

Culture shock is defined by Websters Dictionary, as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.”

Common symptoms of culture shock include:

  • Homesickness
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble focusing
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Exhaustion and depression

There are many major differences in U.S. culture vs. other cultures:

  • Time
    • In the US, you are expected to be on time for class and meetings.
    • It also courteous to call ahead to let someone know if you are going to be late.
  • Communication
    • Most Americans will express themselves in a direct and assertive way.
    • Saying “No,” may be considered rude in other cultures, but is a valued and common response in the U.S.
  • Individualism
    • Americans put high pride on being independent and expect to take care of their problems on their own.
  • Friendships
    • Americans tend to be friendlier on a casual basis, they will say “How are you?” but not expect a detailed response back.

There are many ways to prevent culture shock and have a positive experience while attending University abroad:

Be open minded.

When in a new place, it is important to make sure you are looking to experience new things that are different from your own. Doing this will allow you to operate with empathy and allow you to share your experiences with other people on campus.

Ask questions.

Never be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure about something. It can be a simple question like asking where a certain location is on campus, or it can be a more difficult question like asking someone for help on an assignment. Asking questions will allow for a better understanding of cultural differences while helping you to build relationships.

Take care of your physical health.

When feeling depressed or out of place, just getting your body moving can help your mental state. It can also be a great way to meet new people on campus or on local gyms. Working out can relieve anxiety and depression associated with homesickness leading to better overall health. A diet change can lead to similar results, sometimes when people are depressed, they don’t pay attention to what they are putting into their body.

Make friends with people with similar experience.

While attending university, you will meet other students experiencing the same type of culture shock. This is a good opportunity to make friends by relating to your time being away from home. There are countless programs and groups on campus specifically for international students to help them acclimate to their new environment and set them up for success.

When experiencing culture shock, it is easy to fall into a negative headspace. Use the following information to prevent the symptoms and to grow your networks. Attending a university should be the best time in your life and it can be by catching culture shock early within your first-year of attendance.