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Culture shock

What is Culture Shock?

When a person moves to a new country the experience can feel overwhelming. Whether an individual moves to a country with the same first language or not, the process of getting used to the new culture can be a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

This can apply to international students and it is helpful to realise that is quite normal to feel this way. It is important then to remember that it is a learning process, and that most students will return with greater self-confidence and the ability to manage in an intercultural environment.

Why you may experience Culture Shock

When you arrive in England, you will no doubt encounter a multitude of new things. The food is not the same as it is at home, and familiar greetings such as 'hello' and 'good day', 'thanks' and 'how are you doing', may suddenly give completely different responses than the ones you are used to. People talk in a strange language and look different. University rules are different, and the way of studying may appear strange and difficult. Even though things seem very similar, they may not be, and suddenly everyday routine and simple actions become difficult and frustrating. It is often small differences that are most frustrating, as you think you know how to behave/do things, but you get a strange response. Your family and friends are very far away.

Stages you may go through:

Culture shock often develops in different stages:

Arrival/ “Honeymoon” Stage:
Everything is new and exciting.

Culture Shock Stage:
You start to experience difficulties with everyday things, as they are different from home, such as the language barrier, getting the right food etc.

Adapting Stage:
You slowly start to understand the new culture and feel more in balance. You feel an urge to belong.

Reverse Culture Shock:
This stage takes place when you return to your home country and suddenly find out that you have brought back something with you, namely something that suddenly makes you see your own culture with more critical eyes. This can be difficult to come to terms with. 

Before coming to study Southampton Solent University you probably thought about how you would cope with adjusting to a new country, language, food and customs. But you may not have thought that you might need to make similar sorts of adjustments when you return home. Many people are surprised that they can experience problems re-adjusting to home life, relationships with friends and family and patterns of behaviour. This process of re-adjustment has been called ‘reverse culture shock’. UKCISA have a very useful information sheet available: UKCISA Culture Shock

Dealing with Culture Shock

  • Talk to a friend about your feelings.
  • Stay active – physical activity often helps! Try a new sport with Sport Solent.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends at home.
  • Try to do things that you did at home, listen to your favourite music and/or eat familiar food.
  • Try to avoid evaluating their behaviour using the standards you would use in your own country.
  • Accept that you cannot know everything about the new country and the language, and if it is overwhelming, take a break.

If you experience some of the above symptoms and have a sudden feeling of loneliness or sadness, here are some ideas that may be helpful in dealing with culture shock:

  • Keep an open mind – people in England may say or do things that people at home would not do or say. But the people in England act according to their own set of values, not yours.
  • Learn from experience – moving to a new culture can be the most fascinating and educational experience of your life. There is no better way to become aware of your own values and attitudes or to broaden your point of view.

Useful Links

UKCISA – Culture Shock

Southampton Solent University chaplaincy

Page last updated on Monday 14 March 2016 at 9.55am.

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