During and immediately after your arrival in your host country, you may have been excited by the differences you encountered. Sometimes, the excitement of arrival begins to wear off and as you settle into your routines in this new culture, you may find yourself feeling challenged or frustrated by these differences. This transition, known as culture shock, is a natural part of the adaptation process during study abroad.
It might help to think of culture shock as an ongoing experience rather than just one moment during your study abroad experience. You might feel euphoric and excited when you arrive; those feelings, however positive, are part of the culture shock experience. Gullahorn and Gullahorn's W-Curve Hypothesis Model of Culture Shock argues that students experience multiple waves of highs and lows as they adjust to their host culture. Learning about these stages before you experience them may help you develop strategies to combat negative feelings and help you adjust when you begin your time abroad.
The W-Curve Hypothesis Model
The cultural adjustment process has many highs and lows. No matter how much preparation you do and how open-minded that you are about your upcoming experience, you are bound to experience a bit of culture shock at some point while you are abroad. We encourage students to identify some strategies before they leave campus that may help them deal with those moments when you are feeling mentally exhausted from navigating another culture. The smallest bit of preparation before you leave can go a long way towards helping you navigate these stressful or difficult moments.
Your study abroad advisor can certainly help you strategize, but here are some tips and ideas we think will suit every study abroad student as they prepare for culture shock:
- Do you have some of the basic phrases memorized in your host country language?
- What novels, moves or music will help you de-stress? Have those items readily available!
- Consider investing in a journal so you can jot down your thoughts whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Think about bringing a few recipes for your favorite comfort foods – you can always share those with new friends.
Having a plan to deal with culture shock is one strategy to handle the low points so that you can more quickly get back to pushing yourself to learn beyond your comfort zone.
In addition to these strategies, you may just need to be more patient and flexible than you're used to while you're navigating these new challenges. Don't necessarily expect to hit the ground running and let yourself off the hook for misunderstanding things in your new host country. The study abroad experience is a great opportunity to develop adaptability and flexibility, skills that will help you as you enter the job market upon graduation! Just remember that it takes time to develop these skills. Creativity and resourcefulness will help you to respond to challenges and to take advantage of the opportunities available to you while studying abroad.
We encourage you to read about culture shock and how to work through the ups and downs you might be experiencing during your time abroad so that you can successfully adapt to your host culture!
United States Department of State Culture Shock Info
Students Abroad Culture Shock Page
The University of the Pacific: What's up with Culture?
The University of the Pacific offers an online course in understanding and dealing with culture shock. This website offers an immense amount of information about why culture shock happens and what to do about it. The concept of reverse culture shock - the shock you may experience when you return to your home after study abroad - is also covered.