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culture shock

Culture shock is normal for many international students. Here are some tips to help you adjust.

From unfamiliar cuisine to the foreign language, adjusting to life at a U.S. university can be challenging for international students. Don’t worry though – culture shock, as it is known, is natural. Adjusting to your new environment will take time – and maybe some expert guidance. Follow these tips on how to overcome culture shock when studying abroad.

1. Realize that adjusting takes time

Culture shock and being homesick is normal – all students experience a period of adjustment during the first weeks and months of school. Be patient with yourself and understand that it is a process. You will be excited and intrigued about cultural differences, but there will also be times where you are frustrated or confused.

Set goals for yourself, like having one new “American” thing per week to share with loved ones back home or starting a new hobby that is not possible back home.

2. Focus on the positive

You might find it easy to focus on what is “missing,” like familiar foods and customs from back home. However, comparisons will not help you settle in when encountering culture shock abroad. Instead, focus on the good things around you. Remember that discovering and learning new things is why you wanted to study abroad.

Write down fun or interesting discoveries and add to your list throughout the year. You could write your list in a notebook, a blog or journal (in English to help you practice) or even type a quick note on your phone.

3. Understand your academic expectations

Not only are you adjusting to a new country, but you are also learning how to handle a different academic system. This takes time. Understanding expectations will reduce your anxiety about school work.

Chat with your professors, advisor and friends about what is expected at your university. This will soothe your nerves and help you approach your classes appropriately.

4. Accept that you will be homesick

All students – both international and American – go through a period of homesickness. Although it is important to stay connected with loved ones, remember to embrace your new home and the opportunities to make new friends, too.

Push yourself to start conversations with people. Celebrate your home by talking about your culture and take the time to learn about their cultures, too.

5. Do not compare yourself to others

Try not to compare yourself to others when learning how to deal with culture shock, especially if they are American or have spent a significant time in the U.S. already. Every student is different and adjusts at their own speed, even if their home is closer to your university.

While you do not want to overwhelm yourself, do things that make you a little nervous, like sampling an unfamiliar food or practicing your conversational English with a native speaker. You only grow when you reach outside your comfort zone.

6. Get to know a variety of students

Bonding with other international students can be easy since they share your perspective but befriend American students, too. They can help you adjust to American culture, answer your questions and have fun while you are abroad.
Many American students are outgoing, but they might be hesitant to talk with an international student because they are nervous, just like you. Take the first step and start conversations with new people.

7. Find ways to relieve stress

Adjusting to culture shock at university can be stressful. Exercising can help you burn off nervous energy while exploring your new home. Yoga or meditation could help you relax. Exploring new hobbies or joining a student club on campus, especially those that encourage socializing and meeting new people, can help you overcome culture shock.

8. Keep an open mind

Look at things from other perspectives. If a fellow student or professor acts differently than you would expect, consider how their background and culture influence their behavior. Just as you would want your American classmates to embrace and understand your differences, do the same for them.