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How to Deal with Culture Shock: A Guide for International Students

If you’re about to start a new adventure as an international student, we’re sure you’re feeling excited. But as your departure date draws closer, you might be getting that sudden feeling of anxiety, worry, or even panic. Thoughts start bubbling in your mind: “What if I can’t connect with the locals?”, “Will I be able to adapt to their culture?”, “How do I deal with culture shock?”.  Don’t worry – these thoughts are normal when you uproot yourself to a different country. 

Here is what you need to know about culture shock and how you can overcome it.

What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is quite common for international students like you. You experience culture shock due to the loss of familiarity with the different norms that you encounter every day. Your behavior and interactions are all found on cultural cues that we are familiar with. However, as you move to a different country these familiar cultural cues are taken away and exchanged with new unfamiliar ones. Because of this, we no longer know how to behave and interact in certain situations which results in disorientation, anxiety, and confusion.

Culture Shock Symptoms

1. Fatigue

You feel tired all the time despite having a good night’s rest and a full stomach.

2. Hyperirritability

Getting irritated easily, even over some shallow comment that someone has made. This manifests sometimes through inappropriate venting of anger or assuming the worst in all interactions.

3. Depression

A common culture shock symptom is depression where you feel lonely, lost, vulnerable, a lack of motivation, and a lost sense of identity.

4. Anxiety

Instead of trying new things and meeting new people, you get anxious and overthink about all the bad things that could happen with each decision you make.

5. Self-doubt

You start to struggle with yourself, resulting in a lack of self-confidence and excessive questioning of whether or not you are making the right decisions.

6. Negative feelings toward the host country

Developing negative thoughts and emotions about your host country whether that be about the food, people, place, or culture.

5 Ways to Overcome Culture Shock

1. Research about your host country

Learn about your host country to prepare and familiarize yourself with the different social norms there. Read as many guidebooks, news reports, and travel forums as possible to get you informed. You could also consult a family member or friend who lives there if any.

2. Ask advice from Counselors

Asking for advice from a professional is the best way to go. Seek advice from a counselor and consult them about the different ways to cope with adapting to a new environment and how other students have dealt with culture shock. You can always reach out to your IDP Education Counselor about this.

3. Learn the local language

Learning the local language, even just a few phrases, would help with how you interact with people daily.

4. Reaching out and developing relationships with the locals

Having a local friend would help you adjust to your new environment and culture. You will be able to learn more from them than from any guidebook or travel forum.

5. Communicate with friends and family back home

It is important to maintain communications with family and friends back home as they are your emotional support system. When you are having a bad day or when you are feeling down, it’s good to reach out to them and tell them what’s wrong.

Now that you are aware of what culture shock is and how it can affect you, we hope that this would not deter you from studying abroad. Despite the challenges you will face while studying abroad, you will also get to experience great things such as becoming independent, garner new opportunities, and meet great people.

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Written by: Danica Nicole Ang

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