Coping with Cultural Transition when Studying Abroad

Studying abroad is accompanied by various feelings, ranging from excitement to anxiety. Expect lots of changes and adjustments to welcome you, this time, to a new environment, academic system, and most especially to a new culture different from home. You’re bound to experience culture shock which refers to the psychological disorientation with the unfamiliar way of living in a new country. Culture shock can be felt at varying degrees and at different times. While it can make you terribly homesick, going through a cultural transition is a way to gain new perspective, stimulate personal growth, and assimilate a totally foreign setting.

The Stages of Cultural Shock

The different stages of cultural shock can be experienced all throughout your stay or only on certain occasions while you live abroad.

  • Initial Euphoria: Otherwise known as “honeymoon” stage, this first stage is characterized by euphoria and excitement over all the new things surrounding you.
  • Irritation/Hostility: The shock part comes when you’re adjusting to a new strange environment. Mixed feelings of sadness, anger, impatience, discontent and incompetence transpire as you try to strip your old ways and embrace the new customs.
  • Adjustment: In this third stage, you will better understand the new culture as you gradually adjust to the new environment. You’ve gained a feeling of direction, familiarity, and psychological balance thus you’re not as lost as before. There’s the tendency to evaluate home-grown culture against the new practices.
  • Biculturalism: It can be either double or triple integration of cultures you want to process. In this stage, there is a more solid feeling of being in the right environment, regardless of what good and bad things in it.
  • Reverse Culture Shock: Returning from studying abroad can be equally difficult. It is going through the same experiences all over again, but now everything is happening in your own turf. The same feeling of being out of place in an old familiar territory can be more stressful than confronting it abroad.
  • Reintegration: The final stage allows you to readapt your native culture into your system again.

Depending on your self-mechanism to adjust, some stages take longer and more difficult to deal with. While you may eventually surpass all the phases, some factors such as mental health, educational level, language proficiency, and family support system can also affect the duration and effects of culture shock.

Culture shock is usually manifested by boredom, depression, excessive eating, drinking and sleeping, social withdrawal, lack of motivation, petulance, insecurity, impulsive disorders, stereotyping about the new culture, and homesickness. The symptoms can further aggravate into eating disorders, substance abuse, and other illnesses if underlying mental and physical issues go together with culture shock.

Effective Ways to Cope with Culture Shock

  • Be patient. It takes a while to completely adjust to the foreign environment.
  • Explore the place. Do something new each day. Walk around the neighbourhood. Go to markets or coffee shops. You’ll become a familiar face and meet new friends.
  • Be active in school and community. Join worthwhile student activities, or volunteer in local community projects.
  • Engage in physical or relaxing activities. Go to a gym, or try yoga and other meditative techniques to calm your senses.
  • Keep in touch with family and friends. Take advantage of what modern technology offers to connect you to your family and friends, spanning time and distance.
  • Seek out help. Look for wholesome support groups to help you.

Anyone who has studied abroad has lived and survived culture shock. Like them, you can go through it and come back to tell your own story.

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