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Cultural Adjustment

To prepare for studying abroad and adapting to a new culture we recommend that students look at What’s Up With Culture? an interactive program that addresses what you need to know before you go as well as the returning stages of cultural adjustment. We thank “What’s Up With Culture” for providing many of the explanations below!

I am concerned about homesickness. What can I do to avoid it?
The best remedy is to find something with your host family, city, country, etc. that makes you feel as you do at home. Keep an open mind and explore everything your host country has to offer. Try not to compare your host country to the United States and the things you miss at home; instead take advantage of your time abroad and experience something different. Know that homesickness is a normal step when studying abroad and you are not the only one experiencing it.
What is “culture shock”?
Living in a different country involves cultural transition; the resulting stress is a normal, healthy psychological reaction. Culture shock is an extreme response to an international transition that results from the natural contradiction between our accustomed patterns of behavior and the psychological conflict of attempting to maintain them in the new cultural environment. There are many other less severe responses exhibited by students. Culture “surprise,” “stress,” “irritation,” and “fatigue” are all other common reactions to foreign environments. See definitions of these in What’s Up With Culture?.
What are some signs?
Signs can be both physical and psychological. Symptoms can include: headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, rashes, nausea, irritability, insomnia or excessive sleepiness, depression, loneliness, withdrawal, paranoia, anger, aggression, hatred, fear, crying, and complaining. Be aware that people are unique and exhibit stress in various ways.
What is the cultural adjustment cycle?
A diagram of the cultural adjustment cycleThe diagram to the right is a representation of the general stages that many people go through when adjusting to another culture and then returning home. It is known as the cultural adjustment cycle.
Can I avoid the ups and downs of the cultural adjustment cycle?
Although most culture travelers experience some degree of highs and lows, the intensity varies by individual; your experience may be that the ups and downs closely mirror your transition to CU-Boulder, for example. You most likely will experience at least culture stress and fatigue at some point during your time abroad. However there are some things you can do right now to lessen the effects of cultural adjustment stress: research your host country! Knowing about your host country’s living conditions, societal structure, politics, and cultural values will help you create realistic expectations about your time abroad. Be aware that these expectations, no matter how much research you have done, will be challenged once in country.
Where can I find country-specific cultural information?
It is great that you are trying to find out about your host country’s culture; check out the links on your program homepage and in your program specific handbook. Realize that no matter how much you prepare, mistakes are inevitable. Don’t worry—these are great ice breakers!
How can I cope with adjustment period stress while in country?
There are lots of things you can do! Keep a journal, find supportive people -other Americans or locals-that understand what you are going through, keep active and put yourself out there, explore and engage in hobbies!
Will I have to readjust to the States after my time abroad?
Although many expect their return to the U.S. to be easy, most study abroad alumni experience a period of transition that can be challenging. Many claim boredom, difficulties explaining their time abroad, reverse homesickness, feeling alienated, viewing home with critical eyes, and fearing losing their experience. Being prepared to experience a reverse cultural transition will help you cope with the difficulties.
Help! I’m not readjusting well!
Don’t worry! We are here to help. All of the staff in our office have studied abroad before and understand what you are going through. Many students are caught off guard by experiencing a reverse culture transition as they view their native U.S. American culture and themselves through different eyes. You can find resources on coping with reverse cultural adjustment in What’s Up With Culture?.