Every country has its own unique culture. The traditions and cultural behavior you observe in your country comes natural to you. You even begin to expect other people across borders to follow the same ideals as you and the people you have back home. This is exactly why most people experience a sudden shock when exposed to cultures across the boundaries of their home.
What is Culture Shock?
The feeling or reaction you have to a new culture that is extremely different from what you are used to can be described as culture shock. You may be well versed with the culture that surrounds you and your home, like continuous water supply, steady electricity, the way people speak, what are the various gestures that could offend in your home country and so on. When you go to a different country you will be surprised to learn that all the things you know and practice are very different there.
Simple concepts may be alien to you like the way people dress, what they consider fashionable, how they behave, live and interact. There are tons of unique cultural aspects in a different country that can contradict what you believe and how you behave. In fact, you have already experienced cultural shock in tiny doses. Remember that first day at school? Or the first day of college? How about all the differences between your routine back home and those followed by the school kids that surround you? Being forced to wake up early for class, having to answer tests and do homework.
Remember how you felt then. Now amplify those feelings. That’s what you get when you travel to a country that has its own unique culture. You feel like an outsider, insecure and at a disadvantage. If you prepare yourself and learn how to react and interact with the new environment, you won’t have a hard time coping with things.
Cultural Adjustment Stages for Every Foreign Exchange Student
1. Initial Euphoria
It all starts off like a vacation. You’re going abroad, yay! Oh the things you’ll see, the friends you’ll make. It all sounds so dreamy and marvelous. You will even see certain similarities between the new country and back home. But after a week or even a month, reality will sink in and you will realize this was no holiday; you are here to stay much longer
2. Irritation or Hostility
Slowly you will begin to focus on the differences and even the slightest little thing may annoy you. It might be the small things that are blown out of proportion, forcing you to feel irritated. This is the hardest stage and the one commonly known as culture shock.
3. Gradual Adjustment
Once you’ve settled down, you will start to get accustomed to the new surroundings, the people and the way they work and behave. You begin to understand the various cultural clues and feel like you’ll survive.
4. Adaptation or Biculturalism
Finally, when you give it just enough time, you will begin to feel like you belong and this is actually almost the same as home. Once you adapt to the new culture, you will be able to function normally without feeling different.
Symptoms of Culture Shock
Everyone experiences, culture shock to different extents. For some it may be intense, other less so. Some common effects of culture shock include:
– Intense homesickness
– Avoiding people
– Trouble sleeping
– Looking at the host country as the cause of your feeling miserable
– Compulsive eating or lack of appetite
– Turing into a pessimist
How can International Exchange Students Cope with Culture Shock
Culture shock is a result of numerous things. Not everyone will see the same events as a trigger. The cause of culture shock may stem from lack of knowledge, feeling inadequate or having to question the culture and values you’ve been following your entire life. To help you cope, you can follow some of these tips:
– Do a little research. The more you know, the better you will understand the way things are. Once you get to the host country ask your professors and (native) classmates about the things that confuse you.
– Believe in yourself. You can totally do this. With a positive attitude you will find it much easier to get an enjoyable experience out of it all.
– Be logical when you try to make sense of things. Some cultural practices may not have meaning anymore, but they did long ago.
– Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You should not feel forced to do things differently just because everyone else is, as long as you don’t hurt someone else’s sentiments.
– Be considerate! Not only is it wrong to go around bashing the culture of your host country, it won’t help you feel better.
The best thing to do when you’re out of your element is to give in a little and change to become compatible with the new surroundings.