Culture Shock

As you prepare, you are undoubtedly feeling a variety of emotions: excitement, curiosity, anxiety or even bewilderment. Generally speaking, American students going to English-speaking countries do not anticipate feeling culture shock because they speak the same language. Students and travelers going to non-English speaking countries are often better prepared to experience difficulties in communication and interpreting cultural clues because of the language barrier. Students studying in English-speaking countries are faced with subtle, more disguised differences that can take them by surprise.

Be prepared to undergo some culture shock. There are lots of adjustments that you will need to make in your habits and attitude, but keep an open mind and take it in stride. Moving to any new country is a real challenge, but it is also a very exciting opportunity to learn.

Culture shock affects everyone differently - some people feel the impact in the first few days because of all the changes, while others find themselves feeling homesick weeks later, after the novelty of the new place has worn off. Remember you're all going through this together and everyone experiences some form of it.

 

WHAT IS CULTURE SHOCK?

A feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

 

               STAGE 1: 

 THE HONEYMOON STAGE

                      STAGE 2:

          THE HOSTILITY STAGE 

                   STAGE 3:

          THE HUMOR STAGE

             STAGE 4:

       THE HOME STAGE 

 Characterized by exhilaration, anticipation and excitement.  The individual is fascinated with everything that is new.  An individual in this stage will often demonstrate an eagerness to please, a spirit of cooperation, and an active interest in new things.  They will gloss over misunderstandings and frustration. When these emotions build, they often enter stage 2.  Characterized by frustration, anger, anxiety, and sometimes depression.  Following the initial excitement is a frustration with the bureaucracy.  Sleeping and eating patterns may be disrupted.  Sometimes individuals react to this frustration by rejecting the new environment in which they feel discomfort.  The internal reasoning might be, “If I feel bad, it’s because of them,” thus blaming the external environment for the bad internal feelings.  When the individual of another culture begins to relax in a new situation and begins to laugh at minor mistakes and misunderstandings that previously would have caused major headaches.  This more relaxed stage occurs after the individual has made some friends and is able to manage the complexity of the new environment, understand the work, and experience successes.  Occurs when the individual not only retains allegiance to his or her home culture, but also ‘feels at home’ in his or her newly acquired one.  This student has successfully adjusted to the norms and standards of the new environment and should be commended for the ability to live successfully in two cultures.

 

HOW TO HANDLE CULTURE SHOCK

If you find yourself feeling a little culture shocked or homesick, it helps if you set goals:

  • What do you want to see?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • What type of events, museums, theater productions or historic locations do you hope to visit? 
  • What do you want to get out of your experience abroad?

Resources available:

Additionally, familiarize yourself with current events and pop culture in your new city. Read local papers and magazines; watch local television and listen to local radio stations. Contact the Student Life Team in London or the FIE Dublin Team with any concerns or questions you have about culture shock. Before you know it, you'll find that your new city feels like home.

REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK

Once you've grown accustomed to life in London or Dublin, the time will come to return home. You may find that you have changed and grown with your experiences abroad and that it is difficult to assimilate back into life in your home country. Read more about Reverse Culture Shock after leaving your study abroad program in the When You Get Back - Reverse Culture Shock page.