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Theresa Cann
Assistant Dean, Director of International Education
Phone: 610-526-5375 Undergraduate Dean's Office
Eugenia Chase Guild Hall, Lower Level

Managing Culture Shock

Culture Shock is the anxiety produced when you move to a completely new environment. It’s the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. It generally starts during the first few days/weeks of arriving in a new place. Culture shock includes the physical and emotional discomfort you suffer when coming to live in another country or a place different from what you know. The way you lived before may not work in the new place. So much is different, from the language to banking, from telephone etiquette to flirting, from how you behave with a professor or a fellow student to how you schedule your day. The symptoms of culture shock can show up at different times, and sometimes conflicting feelings overlap. Although you can experience real pain from culture shock, it’s also an opportunity to learn about yourself, your own culture, and your host culture.

Symptoms of Culture Shock

  • Sadness, loneliness, melancholy;
  • Preoccupation with health;
  • Aches, pains, and allergies;
  • Insomnia or a desire to sleep too much;
  • Changes in temperament, including depression or feeling vulnerable, powerless, or lethargic;
  • Anger, irritability, resentment, or unwillingness to interact with others;
  • Identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country;
  • Loss of identity;
  • Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country, or to abandon your own ways;
  • Inability to solve simple problems;
  • Lack of confidence or feelings of inadequacy or insecurity;
  • Developing stereotypes about the new culture;
  • Developing obsessions such as over-cleanliness;
  • Longing for family or homesickness;
  • Feeling lost, overlooked, exploited, abused, or misunderstood.

Coping with Culture Shock:

  • REMEMBER YOUR STRENGTHS! Remind yourself of your talents and abilities.
  • KEEP AN OPEN MIND: different is not necessarily better or worse. Try not to be judgmental; maintain tolerance for otherness.
  • KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR. If you can laugh, you will be better able to fight off embarrassment, fear, shame, despair, and some of the other reactions people sometimes feel when experiencing culture shock.
  • EAT HEALTHY foods and get enough rest.
  • DEVELOP A HOBBY (also a good way to meet people).
  • SEEK ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Remember that there are always resources that you can use, and don’t be afraid or shy to ask for help.
  • BE PATIENT. Adaptation is a process, and it takes time.
  • IF YOU ENCOUNTER A PROBLEMATIC situation and don’t know how to handle it, ask someone you trust to help you understand it from a local perspective.
  • DON'T TRY TOO HARD to be like everyone else: you need to be flexible, but not to change your core self.
  • LEARN TO INCLUDE a regular form of physical activity in your routine. This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner. Exercise, swim, take an aerobics class, etc.
  • RELAXATION AND MEDITATION have proven to be very helpful for people who are passing through periods of stress.
  • BE CURIOUS. Ask questions – this will get you using English and learning colloquial phrases while learning important cultural cues and norms.
  • MAINTAIN CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF. Follow your ambitions and continue your plans for the future.

A student needs to learn what the unwritten rules are about and what they can and cannot do abroad.  It is a good idea to talk to other participants and/or program staff early in their stay overseas.  Most importantly, try to maintain the perspective that these challenges are part of the cross-cultural learning experience which is one of important reasons for studying abroad. 

Academic Culture Abroad

  • You are responsible for finding out, knowing, and following the program or host institution guidelines.
  • Attend class regularly, prepare and participate actively in classroom discussion. 
  • You are also encouraged to take a proactive approach to learning and to engage voluntarily in learning activities that complement the formal curriculum that will reinforce your language and cultural skills.
  • Absence from a class may be excused normally only for a legitimate medical reason. Absence from classes for other scheduled activities due to travel or visitors, including family, is not tolerated and may lead to sanctions (i.e., a reduction in grade). 
  • It is a good idea to keep copies of syllabi, papers, and exams in case the Registrar’s Office or the Major Advisor have any questions or concerns regarding the coursework overseas.