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Santa Clara University

Cultural Transitions

Living in a new culture can be exhilarating, rewarding, and stimulating. It can also be disorienting, frustrating, and depressing. Such distress or “culture transitions” is due to the twofold challenge of being in a new environment with unfamiliar customs, language, food, housing, etc., and being away from your familiar home environment with all of the ease and support it provides.

Even with preparation, it is likely that you will experience some form of cultural transition. Recent studies suggest that culture transitions include distinct phases:

Cultural Transitions Journey

Cultural Adjustment

To avoid or minimize the challenges associated with being in an unfamiliar environment, it can help to educate yourself beforehand about the country you will be visiting and to be open-minded about the different customs and environments you will be experiencing. While these matters are typically addressed in program orientations, you are strongly encouraged to do your own research and to be proactive rather than passive. If you are interested in learning more about the process of cultural adjustment and readjustment, the University of the Pacific has created a cultural training resource.

Communication While Abroad

To avoid or minimize the challenges associated with being away from your usual support network, plan so that you can be in contact with friends, family, mental health professionals, etc., back home as needed, by researching cell phone plans, internet connectivity, and time zone differences. Of course, try to avoid spending so much time in contact with home that it interferes with the opportunity to engage your new culture. It's all about balance!


Navigating Identity Abroad

Thinking about identity abroad and its complexities in the context of another culture are something we hope you’ll embrace in advance of boarding your perspective. So it is important to understand how your own identity may play into your host culture experience abroad can help smooth how you acclimate and enable you to engage more easily and authentically with other students’ and host country residents’ personalities, ideas, perspectives, forms of expression and backgrounds. You can learn more on the Diversity & Identity Abroad section of our website.

Mental Health & Wellness Resources

If at any time your culture transitions cross over into symptoms of depression or other mental health conditions while abroad, please reach out to your onsite coordinator to discuss how you can utilize local resources available through your university or program. Local (California) laws prevent CAPS from providing such support outside of the U.S. 

For students who have returned to SCU, same-day crisis screenings are available in person at CAPS or by phone during business hours (Monday-Friday: 9:00 am-3:00 pm.): Students experiencing a crisis can call (408) 554-4501 for assistance or come to the CAPS Central Office at the Student Health Center. Staff, faculty, or loved ones concerned about an SCU student in crisis can also call at (408) 554-4501 or stop by during business hours for a consultation.

After-hours CAPS Crisis Services:

  • Contact Resident Director or Campus Safety
  • Contact SCU EMS for after-hours emergencies:
  • Every day of the academic year from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am (except holidays, academic breaks, and finals week).

You are an ambassador of the United States and the Santa Clara University – please respect others and act responsibly!

SCU Code of Conduct