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Dealing with Culture Shock

Culture shock refers to the challenging process of adjusting to a new country or culture.

The Stages of Culture Shock

1. Newness and excitement

At first everything is new - people, sights, food, climate, language, social customs, expectations, etc. The initial excitement usually overrides the stress and anxiety of being in a new country and culture.

2. Disenchantment and homesickness

As the excitement wears off the realities of living in another country sinks in. Speaking another language all day, being far from home, and missing the support of friends or family may drain you. You may begin to feel sad, critical and frustrated, and doubt your ability to adjust to this new country.

3. Rejection of the host culture

Things frustrate you more than usual and you find yourself disliking and withdrawing from the new culture. You may develop an "us versus them" view and want to return home.

4. Growing understanding of the host culture

With time, a growing understanding of the new culture usually develops. Social customs, norms, and expectations become clearer. You begin to settle in and start to feel confident and successful. You are becoming bi-cultural.

5. Reverse or re-entry culture shock

Returning home from your home country may also involve a significant adjustment. Difficulties adjusting to life back home are not unusual.

What are Some Symptoms of Culture Shock?

  • Irritated
  • Fatigue
  • Unfocused
  • Compulsive eating and/or drinking
  • Sleeping a lot and/or tiring easily
  • Feeling isolated and helpless
  • Negative feelings towards new culture/country

How Can I Manage Culture Shock?

  • Read as much as you can about the country and culture you will be visiting before you leave.

  • Talk with others about your experiences of adjusting to the new country. Talking may help you make sense of these experiences and may help you feel less alone. Other international students are likely to have similar experiences. As well, friends and family back home may find it easier to provide support when they know what you are going through.

  • Be patient with yourself as you adjust. Remember to take care of your body, mind, and spirit.

  • Make a conscious decision to succeed and adapt. Tell yourself positive things like: “I will give myself time to adjust,” “I will keep trying,” “I will adapt,” “I will learn,” and “I will succeed.” Develop endurance and also resiliency: the ability to adapt.

  • Trust that you will make the needed adjustments. Believe that you will come through this a more rounded, more experienced, and more international person than you were before.

  • Remember your reasons for coming to this new country. Your goals will help you decide how to spend your time.

  • Try new things. Invite others to join you. This will help build new relationships and a "future" of shared experiences together.

  • Stay in contact with friends and family back home. Talk to them about your experiences and keep up to date on what is happening for them.

  • Give yourself time to adjust before making important decisions.
  • Do something that reminds you of home. Make your favourite food, listen to music, or practice a hoddy. Doing something that reminds you of home can help boost your spirits.

Additional Suggestions If You Are Experiencing Culture Shock in Saskatoon

  • Make an effort to seek out and join groups that interest you. 

  • Make an effort to talk with Canadian students.

  • Try to find a friend who is willing to be your “cultural informant” and help you understand customs, social rules, slang sayings, etc.

  • If you are struggling, ask for help. Talk to family, friends, teachers, or advisors. U of S students may also talk to counsellors at the Student Wellness Centre when they need help managing difficult situations or dealing with stress. Services are free for all students and appointments are booked by phone or in person. Services are confidential.

Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock, or reentry shock, refers to the difficulty sometimes experienced when returning to your home country and culture after you have had experiences overseas.

While a wide range of responses is normal, some may be unexpected.

Your re-entry is a process that may involve some or all of the following stages:

  1. An initial excitement about returning home.
  2. Subsequent disenchantment and disillusionment with your home culture.
  3. A rejection of the home culture.
  4. A deeper understanding of your home culture.

What are Some Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock?

Emotions

  • Confusion 
  • Disappointment 
  • Anger
  • Excitement
  • Anticipation
  • Guilt
  • Sadness

Questions

  • What have I missed? 
  • Am I understood? 
  • How do I fit in? 
  • What’s important to me? 
  • Where do I go from here? 

Behaviors

  • Withdrawing from others
  • Reflecting on your time away
  • Talking a lot about your experiences
  • Doing things in new ways
  • Spending a lot of time with friends/family

What Might I Experience?

  • A sense that you have changed. Your values, experiences, and habits may be different now. Your friends and country may also have changed. Fitting in with family, friends, and work may not be as easy as you anticipated.

  • A sense that others cannot understand what you have been through. You may struggle with putting some of your experiences into words and may not want to talk about your experiences. Or, you may find that you do not stop talking about your experiences and want to share everything. Others may tire of listening and shut you down.

  • Questions about who you are and where you fit into your culture and the world in general. You may decide that you want to change careers, study areas, or institutions.

  • Questions about the values, norms, and expectations of your original culture. You may find yourself embracing parts of your home culture that you previously rejected or found unimportant.

  • Homesickness for the friends and positive parts of the country that you’ve just left.

  • Negative thoughts about the culture, place, and people you’ve left and relief that you’re not there anymore.

  • Comparisons of the level of privilege in you country and your host country. You may experience guilt and shock at the abundance in your home country or dismay at the lower standard of living in your host country.

  • Different expectations from people in your home country. There may be pressure to "perform" in some way and "share" what you have learned and experienced. You may be expected to be the "expert," or the "ambassador" and you may not feel up to these roles.

How Can I Manage the Re-entry Process?

  • Give yourself time to overcome jet-lag. Take care of yourself by eating well, getting enough rest, and exercising.

  • Initiate activities to help you reconnect with family and friends. Ask about and show an interest in what has happened in your home country while you were gone.

  • Many people find it helpful to talk about the experiences (positive and negative) that they have had in another country and the re-entry process. This may help you and others to better understand the impact of the time you spent living in another culture.

  • On return, some students enjoy pursing an international connection by meeting with international students, Canadians who have been to the same country, or those who are planning to travel abroad. Volunteering may be one way to get involved.

  • If appropriate, keep in touch with friends from your host country.

  • Give yourself time to integrate your experiences before making important decisions.

  • If your travel experiences have led you to consider new career goals you may find it helpful to pursue career counselling.

  • Trust that you will integrate your travel experiences over time and will appreciate what you’ve learned.

  • Some people struggle with the re-entry process and find it difficult to reestablish themselves in their home country. If this is the case it may be helpful to seek counselling.

Homesickness

Homesickness is the distress or anxiety one may feel when they are separated from home. Feeling homesick is kind of like grieving: we feel like we've lost something important to us. Life grief, homesickness is natural and, with effort, can resolve itself over time.

What are Some Symptoms of Homesickness?

  • Crying and sadness
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Headaches, dizziness, and/or nausea
  • Change in appetite
  • Negative thought or thoughts about home (e.g., "I miss my family so much" or "People here don't like me")

How Can I Manage Homesickness?

Many of the coping strategies for dealing with culture shock can also help with homesickness. Below are other strategies you can use to overcome homesickness:

  • Take care of yourself. It's easy to hide away in your room with your computer, but isolating yourself won’t help. Maintain or start a fitness regimen. Exercise has shown to improve one’s mood and overall outlook. Plus activities like Campus Rec can help you get exercise and meet new people.

  • Avoid the “victim mindset.” When you’re down it can be easy to blame other people or circumstances for your situation. Instead, be proactive. Remind yourself why you’re here and decide every day to make this experience the best it can possibly be.
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