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Culture Shock!

Moving to a new country to start your studies is extremely exciting. It may be the first time you have left your own country. You will probably be feeling incredibly lucky and looking forward to your future. You may also feel a little anxious about all the challenges ahead.

When you start classes, you could find it is not exactly how you expected it to be. You may feel frustrated, lonely and disorientated. Don’t worry! These are all normal symptoms of culture shock – it happens on some level to anyone who travels away from home, and it can be overcome. In this article we explore the ways you can prepare for culture shock, and handle it when you begin your studies.

What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to live within an entirely different cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country. [Wikipedia]

Once you arrive, you may find it hard to realise you are no longer in your own country. You are expected to live in this new culture straight away – to make friends, to cook and shop, to do laundry, to explore your new neighbourhood. And sometimes that isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.

There are four key stages to culture shock:

The honeymoon phase: when you first arrive, you have romantic ideas on how you will fit in and everything is exciting - especially the differences.

The crisis phase: those differences suddenly become difficult to manage. Food tastes strange, accents are hard to understand, you don’t know where to shop and eat, and you may feel lonely. At this stage it’s important not to withdraw and reject the new country’s culture.

The adjustment phase: gradually you get used to managing day to day activities. You become more confident with your language ability, and you make new friends from your new home country.

The bi-cultural phase: you suddenly find you are comfortable living in two cultures at the same time. You feel a sense of belonging, and also confident in your ability to have achieved this – and this really is an excellent skill for any student who wants to travel and work globally.

Everyone reacts to culture shock differently. Some may choose to deny their home culture completely and immerse themselves fully into their new country. Others may feel like withdrawing, sleeping all day, eating too much - but these can make the problem worse. Finding balance is the key to getting the most out of your study experience.

Preparing for culture shock

Before you leave your own country, do some additional research. Ask friends and family who have travelled to the country, search online and read books. Try not to rely on TV and movies as these can be very misleading when it comes to real social situations.

Try to find out about customs, sports, topics for conversation, body language and gestures. Having confidence in the local language will also help you settle in, so take extra classes even if you don’t think you need them.
Once you arrive, you need to get to know your new neighbourhood. Get a map and find the local post office, shops, doctor and most importantly the international student office. Be brave and introduce yourself to your neighbours. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about local customs, food, dress – it’s all part of your learning experience. Reading the local newspaper will give you things to talk about with your new friends.

Don’t forget to keep in touch with your own culture. Find a supermarket that stocks your favourite foods and stay in touch with home news online. Buy a phone card from a newsagent and call home – friends and family. Otherwise you may find you suffer reverse-culture shock when you return home!

Most importantly, remember there are many support services on campus for you. Your international student office will organise trips and activities to help you get to know other students, and also see more of your new city and country.

The staff at the International Support Service at University of Canterbury in New Zealand, see students experience culture shock in many different ways. One student found she became tearful and homesick after getting a stomach upset soon after she arrived on campus. It was not the illness that upset her, but the different treatment she received from the local doctor. It wasn’t wrong – just different. This triggered the typical symptoms of culture shock, and an international student counsellor was able to help her overcome her anxieties. She quickly made new friends and enjoyed her studies.

Hyeri Kang, from Korea, was surprised by the culture shock she experienced when she started her studies in Australia. “When I first came here, I felt lost since everything was completely different from Seoul. Seoul… does not know darkness even at nights, and Rockhampton is a small city even in Australia.” Luckily she quickly found friends amongst the large international student group who encouraged her to finish all her courses.

Change your attitude… and change your life

You need to stay positive and see this as a chance to pick the best bits about life in both cultures. One international student summed it up by saying “if you just stay in your own group or culture, your experience will be half.” You will need to show initiative to form new friendships – and by taking that first step you can change your life forever.

Be aware of the symptoms of culture shock and make sure you ask for help when you need it. You’ll be surprised how quickly it passes – especially if you have prepared yourself for all the challenges and adventures ahead.

For more information on culture shock and other pre-departure questions, you can contact one our study abroad counsellors at any time.

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thanks a lot.. i read this article just before leaving my home country. hope it will help.
and cont with me
Asif Qazafi


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