International Student Services

International Students Experiencing Culture Shock

Culture shock is not quite as shocking or as sudden as most people expect. It is part of the process of learning a new culture that is called "cultural adaptation." You may experience some discomfort before you are able to function well in a new setting. This discomfort is the "culture shock" stage of the adaptation process. The main thing to remember is that this is a very normal process that nearly everyone goes through. Just as you will bring with you to the United States clothes and other personal items, you will also carry invisible "cultural baggage" when you travel. That baggage is not as obvious as the items in your suitcase, but it will play a major role in your adaptation abroad.

Cultural baggage contains the values that are important to you and the patterns of behavior that are customary in your culture. The more you know about your personal values and how they are derived from your culture, the better prepared you will be to see and understand the cultural differences you will encounter abroad.

Coping with Culture Shock

The most effective way to combat culture shock is to step back from a given event that has bothered you, assess it, and search for an appropriate explanation and response. Take good care of yourself. Read a book or rent a video in your home language, take a short trip if possible, exercise and get plenty of rest, write a letter or telephone home, eat good food, and do things that you enjoy with friends. Take special notice of things you enjoy about living in the host culture. Although it can be disconcerting and a little scary, the "shock" gradually eases as you begin to understand the new culture. It is useful to realize that often the reactions and perceptions of others toward you — and you toward them — are not personal evaluations but are based on a clash of cultural values. The more skilled you become in recognizing how and when cultural values and behaviors are likely to come in conflict, the easier it becomes to make adjustments that can help you avoid serious difficulties.

As always, you can contact any Goodwin staff or faculty member if the feelings of culture shock seem out of proportion. Additionally, if you feel you need the support and services of a mental health professional there are multiple resources at the College and in the health services community. Seeking mental health support in the United States is considered normal in times of need and our mental health professionals on the Counseling team at Goodwin are here to help.