Culture Shock

Culture Shock: Adjusting to Life in the United States

Now that you are finally here in the U.S. attending classes, making new friends and learning about the American culture, you are probably noticing a lot of differences. These differences can be good and bad, and at first you may love everything about your new life abroad. However, it is common for students to feel “culture shock” when moving to and living in a new country.

What is culture shock?

When moving to a new country everything is unfamiliar; from the weather, language and food, to the fashion, values, and customs. Culture shock is a normal part of study abroad, and shows that you are aware of and experiencing the differences between your home country and that of the American culture. Some students go through culture shock and others may not experience these differences, everyone adjusts to new environments and culture in their own ways.

There are four stages when adapting to a new culture. Some people go through the process quicker and with less stress, while others go through the stages slower and find it difficult to adjust to the differences.

Stage I: The Honeymoon – Initial euphoria and excitement

You feel you are able to handle anything, some characteristics include:

  • Excitement about new sights and surroundings.
  • Engaging in tourist-like activities in the host culture.
  • Intrigue with both similarities and differences between the American culture and your home culture.
  • Lots of interest in learning, very motivated and open-minded.

 Stage II: Anxiety | Culture shock – Frustration and hostility towards differences

The novelty of the American culture has worn off. Your feelings in this stage may include:

  • A focus on the differences between your new culture and your home culture. Stereotypes and prejudices surface.
  • Small issues feel like major catastrophes; you become overly stressed out by small problems and feel helpless and frustrated.
  • Homesickness; missing your family and friends from home.

Stage III: Adjusting – Finding humor and perspective

In this stage, you decide to make the most of your experience. You may also have the following reactions:

  • Increased familiarity with the new culture, its logic and values.
  • Adjustment gradually occurs.
  • A return of your sense of humor about differences.
  • Recognition that you like some parts of the American culture better than that of your home country.
  • Deeper learning about life abroad.
  • Questioning of your previous assumptions about the world.

Stage IV: Acceptance | “Feeling at Home” – Adaptation

You now exhibit a new-found appreciate towards certain aspects of the new culture, and critique others. Common reactions at this stage include:

  • Feeling at home in the “foreign” country.
  • Feeling a sense of understanding and association with the new culture.
  • No longer being negatively affected by differences in culture.
  • Living, studying and working to your full potential.
  • Feeling satisfaction in adjusting and surviving a semester abroad.

Ways to Diminish Feelings of Culture Shock:

  • Make plans for keeping in touch with family and friends. Having a set “date” to talk to friends and family can help you get through a difficult week.
  • Find excitement and enjoyment in sharing your experiences. Update your Facebook with all your exciting adventures so that you can share your stories and excitement about being abroad.
  • Dive” into your host culture fully and wholeheartedly. There is no better way to adjust than to dive right in!
  • Keep an open mind; it is natural to have preconceived ideas and beliefs that come into question while abroad. You will learn much more if you keep an open mind to new experiences.
  • Join a sports team or athletic activity! Joining a team sport helps you meet new people and exercising in general boosts your bodies’ happiness.
  • Get to know other student at Millersville, join a club or organization and become involved on campus
  • Make a local friend with whom you can discuss your frustrations and encounters with, share the good stories and the bad.
  • Learn as much as you can about your host culture. The more you know, the more you appreciate the differences and similarities.
  • Keep a journal. Record your impressions of new experiences and the transformations that are occurring within you. You will have something fun to read later in life to reflect on your time abroad!