Studying Abroad – Culture Shock
Tips for Dealing with Culture Shock
The moment you land in your new study abroad country you will be busy taking in the newness around you. You might be enthralled and captivated by the sudden friendliness of the people around you. Or perhaps you are noticing a lack of friendliness, the difference in how people dress or an inability to pick up on the subtleties of the language of your host country. What you are experiencing is Culture Shock.
While abroad you realise your daily routine, the attitudes of the people around you and the culture are no longer familiar. In our normal environment much of our behaviour, gestures and interactions are guided by cultural cues (or norms). These norms can often be hidden (covert) or unspoken, indeed we do not actively focus on them. In a new country we become more aware of how the cultural subtleties are different from our own norms.
You may not literally be shocked, but this act of feeling disoriented and processing new ways of life, attitudes, and cultural norms is by definition culture shock.
Studying abroad is a challenge and can be an emotional roller coaster at times.
Statements that might indicate you are suffering from Culture Shock:
I only frequent cafes where I know people from my country/state will be
I am idealising my own culture
The behaviours and activities of your host countries locals doesn’t make sense (compared to your own culture)
Going to the supermarket is an overwhelming experience
You can help yourself but remind everyone of how great your own country is
You look at locals with suspicion
You complain about everything a lot
Your life has gone virtual
How to manage this:
Recognise The Presence of Culture Shock – Firstly recognise that what you are feeling and that culture shock is very normal.
Learn About Your Host Country – Do your best to learn as much about your host country as possible. You can access forums online, read guidebooks and even talk to people who have been there before (or are from your host country). Being prepared can help you be ready for some of the differences.
Get Advice From Study Abroad Coordinators – The study abroad officers/coordinators can have a wealth of information around the difficulties students have when trying to adapt. You could find out from the coordinators what other students have done to cope.
Set Study Goals – You are going to your host country to study so it might be helpful to set some study goals. This might be something as simple as making sure you find out where the library is (opening times, lending protocol) and starting your assignments when you get them (not leaving them to three days before the due date). Your study goals might also include sitting beside different students each time you go to class. While you are abroad to enjoy yourself you are also here to study, so plan to get to every class.
Healthy Distractions – When you feel negative towards your host country find a healthy distraction. You could cook a nice meal at home, chill out and read a book, watch your favourite TV show, go out for a stroll or a jog.
Make a top 5 list – List the 5 best cafes’, 5 best thrift shops, the 5 top parks, the 5 coolest streets. Visit each of these and if you want you could create a little blog with pictures of each one to show people at home. Trip advisor is always useful https://www.tripadvisor.ie/
Try To Befriend One Local – Start by trying to connect with one person native to your host country. Starting with one person can open up connections to their friends or acquaintances. Once you have made one friend it can be easier to make more. As this new friend will be an expert in their own country they will be able to explain everything you need to you.
Try To Reframe Your Experience – Try to understand your host countries culture from their perspective. You may not agree with the ideologies and philosophies of your host country and it may be far removed from your own culture but that is ok. Try to understand things from your host countries’ perspective aiming to be open and non-judgemental about what you see.
Get Involved With The Local Community – The feelings of culture shock might become coming from feeling like too much of an outsider, so try to get involved in your local community. If you went to church at home then do so in your host country. Maybe you volunteered at home or were part of a sports club, you can search for a volunteer project or join a local team in your host community. Volunteer Ireland might be able to help you https://www.volunteer.ie/
Talk To Others About How You Feel – Other study abroad students can be great to talk to about your host culture. You can tell them how you are feeling, ask them how they feel and find out what strategies they have used to cope. You can also clarify things with them for example a particular phrase you keep hearing but don’t know what it means. You can also talk to a therapist to help you to understand how you are feeling. Contact Anne at City Therapy https://www.citytherapy.ie/
Find peace in knowing it’s unlikely that the locals are deliberately trying to make you feel unwanted in their culture, it might just takes you a few weeks to adjust.