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 when 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:
– Withdrawal and/or only spending time with those from your country
– Inability to concentrate
– Excessive or compulsive eating or drinking
Knowing these 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. You can significantly shorten the amount of time that you experience these negative symptoms if you respond eagerly.
Virtually all international students experience culture shock to some degree. The different lifestyle or pace in this country may overwhelm you, or perhaps the food and/or customs may 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 challenges and 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 as people speak, 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 result. 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 US, without judging them. You can experience something as different, without labeling it as inferior, and can respect this 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 about the area you will call home in the US. 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 anyone you know who has studied in the US and ask them about their experience. Most importantly, go into your adventure with an open mind. Put aside any stereotypes or preconceptions you may have.