A Message from the Associate Provost for International Programs
It's Week 5 and international students who arrived in the U.S. at the start of the academic year are likely entering Phase 2 of Culture Shock, where they may need additional understanding and support. We have provided some background on Culture Shock for faculty and staff, below. If you see an international student who seems out of sorts, please remind them of and/or connect them to the resources available to support students in distress. The rate at which students transition through the phases varies.
As always, please feel free to reach out if you see an international student who you believe may be struggling with cultural adjustment.
Associate Provost for International Programs
What is "Culture Shock"?
Culture shock, also referred to as "Cultural Adjustment", or "Cultural Adaptation", is the normal process of adjusting to new customs, worldviews, and everyday life in a new culture, from basic philosophies to daily chores. Culture Shock describes the psychological disorientation most people experience when they move for an extended period of time into a culture markedly different from their own. Almost everyone experiences “culture shock” to some degree when they are abroad. In fact, it can happen each time a person goes abroad, even if they are returning to the same country.
What are the phases of Culture Shock?
- Phase 1 - "Euphoria" or "The Honeymoon Phase": Everything is new and exciting in the host country. Students are at the beginning of their adventure and everything is charming and interesting.
- Phase 2 - "Irritability and Hostility": After students have been in the host country for a while, some of the local customs may become irritating. “Why they do it that way?” may be a prevailing question about customs that seemingly make no sense. Daily life can become aggravating. During this phase students may realize how little they actually know about the host culture and may think their own culture’s way of doing things is better. Homesickness intensifies and students miss their family and friends.
- Phase 3 - "Gradual Adjustment": Students may find themselves gradually adjusting to the new culture. Students begin to gain competency in the culture, and day to day tasks are not the struggle they were during the previous phase.
- Phase 4- "Adaptation and Biculturalism": This phase indicates full integration and competency in the new culture. Normally, this happens after many years; a few weeks or months typically does not lead to true biculturalism, but students will have achieved a higher level of cultural understanding and competency.
- Phase 5 - "Re-entry": Students can look forward to going through a similar adjustment curve when they return home. Typically, students realize how aspects of their host culture have become second nature to them and will notice differences upon return to their home country Perhaps because we don’t expect “culture shock” upon returning home, it can be intense.
What does Culture Shock look like on a graph?
What can students learn from Culture Shock?
- Everyone experiences some degree of Culture Shock
- It is to be expected and not a sign of deficiency.
- Culture is a survival mechanism which tells its members that their ways of doing things are right and superior.
- Culture shock stems from an in-depth encounter with another culture in which one learns, contrary to how one has been acculturated, that there are different ways of doing things that are neither wrong nor inferior.
- Culture Shock teaches us that one’s own culture does not possess the single right, best or even better way of providing for human needs and enjoyments.
Strategies for helping students deal with Culture Shock- Remind students:
- This is normal; contextualize feelings in terms of Culture Shock.
- Seek to understand cultural patterns and relationships in the host culture.
- Avoid others in a constant state of culture shock.
- Resist the temptation to withdraw – Get involved by joining a club, keep busy
- Keep a journal, blog or vlog to help reflect on the experience
- Maintain a sense of humor and humility
- Utilize campus resources:
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