Culture Shock and Adjustment
What is culture shock? It is not quite as “shocking” or as sudden as the term may imply. Basically, it is the realization that many of your presumptions about the world and the way to get along may not always be accurate in another culture. It is also a deep and sometimes disturbing recognition that you are far from home, and you feel a growing sense that the rules you have learned your whole life do not apply. The “shock” is not a single moment but rather a growing emotional, physical, and mental awareness.
It is important to remember that this shock is part of your student's adaptation and a very normal process. These are feelings that are commonly experienced by anyone going through a major transition. Even those who regularly travel abroad can experience this, it is important that your student does not feel ashamed about their reactions to new situations. Acknowledge them and try not to let the negative feelings cloud their entire experience.
Phases of Culture Shock Experienced Overseas Honeymoon Phase:
Your student will have great expectations and a positive mindset. Anything new is intriguing and exciting; new sights, new tastes, new smells, etc. Early problems are usually masked by the many tasks and adjustments that your student has to make. This phase may last from a few days to a few weeks.
Your student will begin struggle to perform daily tasks because of the differences in language, housing, friends, or schoolwork. Your student may become aggressive and begin to complain about the new country and culture. Your student may begin to reject the new country and only notice the bad things that bother them.
Your student may begin to indulge in their own culture by only speaking English, eating food from home, and only socializing with people from his/her own culture. He/She may continue to complain about every aspect of the new country/culture and only remember the good things about their home country/culture. They may begin to remember their home as a wonderful place where nothing ever went wrong and often question why they left. Your student may have feelings of anxiety, sadness, and homesickness and may be affected by these feelings through compulsive eating/drinking, change in sleep patterns, or irritability.
Your student will become more comfortable with the language and customs on the new country. He/She will become accustomed to the culture and begin to realize that no country is that much better than another, just different. Your student will become more comfortable with the new place, the new food, the new customs and will find their sense of humor begin to return.
Reverse/Return Phase: Symptoms Experienced Upon Return to the U.S.
Your student may feel depressed and miss the country and friends they have left behind. He/She may feel that no one understands or cares about what they have experienced. Your student may come home with different perspectives and views about their culture and lifestyle. He/She might feel like a stranger in their home and become irritated and critical others and American culture.
Remember…Everyone is Different:
Not everyone will experience all of the phases of culture shock. Some will experience the phases in different orders and for different lengths of time.
How a Parent Can Help: While Your Student is Abroad
• Listen to their exciting stories and remember these for the future when times may become more challenging for them.
• It is important for you to be supportive. Listen carefully and try to find out exactly what is upsetting your student.
• Make a suggestion for your student to talk with the on-site staff. They have experience in helping students adjust during the initial period abroad.
• Listen to your student’s stories and congratulate them on adapting to their new surroundings and culture.
• As a parent, you may not understand what your student is going through. It may be enough to be aware that culture shock exists and that it probably will affect you student in some way.
How a Parent Can Help: Once Your Student has Returned
• Listen to your student’s stories without cutting them short. Your student may want to talk for hours about their experience abroad. Many of their friends will not have the time or patience for this, so your student may rely on you.
• Encourage your student to stay in contact with their friends abroad.
• Make a suggestion for your student to get involved with international activities on their college campus once they return.
• Your student may come back feeling more independent than before they left. Be patient and open-minded and look for ways to accept this new independence. Rules that were in place before they left may need to be adjusted.
Yamada International House, 56 E. Union Street, Athens OH 45701 (740) 593-1840