Copingwith Culture Shock
Studyingabroad is one of the most exciting experiences one can ever have intheir lives, but it is usually accompanied by a series of confusingand frustrating experiences that make a person suffer from serioushome sick. This is usually so because of cultural differencesexisting between a student and his or her new environment in collegeabroad. This is known as culture shock. As defined in Office ofInternational Education Study Abroad Handbook, culture shock refersto the slow, cumulative feeling of frustration. It is characterizedby feeling of intense discomfort, together with hyperirritability,resentment, bitterness, homesickness, anxiety and in the end canresult to depression or even physical symptoms of psychosomaticillness (26). Culture shock can be influenced by different factorsand understanding how to cope with it is the first step for successin studying abroad. Coping with culture shock depends on one’sknowledge on the aspects of culture shock.
Themain cause of culture shock is cultural baggage. Hansel describescultural baggage as a set of assumptions and values that one shareswith others in their culture (23). One does not notice these valuesand beliefs exist until they are in a foreign territory, where thepeople does not share this beliefs (Hansel 23). Consequently, one isbound to experience culture shock when they are separated from thecues and known routines with which they are familiar withparticularly the inherent indirect ways one normally uses to expressfeelings (Office of International Education 26). Not every personwill experience serious issues of culture shock, nor will all thesigns be seen in every student studying aboard. Majority of studentsprevail amid culture shock with considerable ease, only experiencingminimal issues. However, majority of students experience severeculture shock that push them to depression and even contemplate goingback home and throwing their dream away. Some people argues that,culture shock is the occupational hazard of living abroad which onehas to be willing to experience so as to have the pleasures ofexperiencing other people’s cultures (Hansel 67). However, itdoesn’t have to be so. There are several tips that can assist astudent cope with culture shock and pursue their life dreams whenstudying abroad.
Ina new country, one faces the challenge of learning the culturaldifferences that exists between his or her culture and the hostculture. It becomes very difficult to go through activities that usedto be routine back at home. One is required to gain culturalknowledge of the host country so as to recognize normal behavior,interpret cultural signals, maneuver the new rules and behave in amature manner towards the new culture. Unfamiliarity to a new culturetakes its toll on a person’s physical, emotional and psychologicalhealth. The way one reacts depends on his or her knowledge of theculture, the ability to learn from others, and willingness to acceptthis new way of life.
Accordingto The University of North Carolina at Greensboro InternationalPrograms Center (N.P), there are four main stages of adjustment.These stages are important for one to survive culture shock. Theyinclude
Initialeuphoria: This characterizes the very first experience of being in aforeign country. It is the kind of feeling that one feels for makingit to their dream destination to study. At this stage one feelsexcited. One is blinded by simple facts such as, “after all theyhave Starbucks too”. This feeling lasts for about a week or amonth. Sooner, one realizes they are there to stay. This is similarto having a long vacation, where one feels withdrawn when it ends.
Irritationor hostility stage is the second stage of culture adjustment. Here, aperson begins to focus on the disparities they are able to notice.Seemingly small things get exaggerated. One perceives others asstrange.
Gradualadjustment follows. One has already made through the toughest partand the crisis is now avoided. One gradually starts to experiencenormalcy and becoming more comfortable in the new environment. One isable to understand cultural clues making one feel less isolated.
Adaptationor biculturalization is the final stage of cultural adjustment. Atthis point, a person begins to feel more comfortable, just like athome country. One starts to recognize that returning back home willmake them miss a lot from the host country. This is also the pointwhere a person starts to experience reverse culture shock (TheUniversity of North Carolina at Greensboro International ProgramsCenter N.P). Reverse culture shock is when a person experiencesculture shock when they return back home.
Beforetravelling abroad, one should be prepared psychologically for thecultural differences that exist between his or her culture and theculture of the host country. In order to gain some perspective, StudyAbroad University of Illinois (N.P) advices one to read throughguidebooks, foreign and international magazines and newspapers,novels, poetry, plays, as well as political and economic analysis ofthe host country. One may also interact with international studentsand routine travelers who have been to the country one is planning tostudy, besides asking for recommendations from the study AbroadOffice advisor.
Becomingfamiliar with the foreign dialect can greatly help a person throughthe transition process. Before involvement in the new study abroadprogram, a student should learn the local language and continuelearning it even during his or her study to enhance his or herprowess in communication (Michigan State University N.P). Buying orrenting films in local dialect can help one become accustomed to theflow and rhythm of the language in the foreign land. This isimportant as it helps the student to cope as they can understand thelocal language and can comfortably mingle with the natives. Languageis one of the major cause of culture shock hence, overcoming it canbe a great relieve.
Inaddition, it is important to evaluate ones’ motive for studyingabroad. Studying should not be taken as a vacation hence one shouldset specific objectives especially if studying in a foreign language.Setting achievable goals help minimize chances of being frustrated,but studying is the main priority always.
Appreciatingthe value of culture shock is another way that students can cope.Culture shock by itself is a way of sensitizing a person to aunfamiliar culture outside intellectual and rational framework. Oneshould be prepared to go through unlikable experiences for him or herto acknowledge the cultural diversity that exists.
Manyare times that one will experience low moments that will lead tofeeling depressed. Being prepared from such incidents is veryimportant as one is able to handle them appropriately without causingsevere stress. Leaving family and friends is not easy, but with theunderstanding that one is in this situation in pursuant of somethingvaluable will help overcome such depression. Looking forward topositive gain in terms of knowledge and experiences is critical insurviving culture shock (Michigan State University N.P).
Havingcommunication misunderstandings is normal and it may make one becomefrustrated or angry. Understanding these difficulties keeps oneprepared for such moments. Being aware of the differences in the waypeople do things in the new environment can help one in coping. It isgood to be open, learn and accept any corrections from peers(Michigan State University N.P). Do not feel embarrassed, argue andtry to be open to criticism.
Familiarizingwith the polices, politics, laws and the trending debates in theforeign land is a good way to fit in the new environment. Rememberthat, engaging in criticism of policies is not personal, the debateshave been there and are controversial, so one should not hold backtheir opinion. This will allow room for interacting with otherstudents, hence not feeling isolated. This is how a student to fit inthe new society by engaging in debates. One can familiarize throughwatching international news channels as well as local channels, theinternet and other media that may have the necessary information.
Makingthe first move is important in surviving culture shock. No localstudents will come looking for a foreigner. Hence, one should makeefforts to mingle with them, either in class or outside class. Oneway is through joining clubs, students associations, worship team, aswell as participating in service learning and voluntary projects.Allowing time for leisure is very important in achieving this.
Justlike anyone else, one may have a problem. Since he or she is nothome, he may not have an immediate person to share it with. However,it is advisable to maintain contact with the relevant bodies withinthe institution. They include resident director, or program leader orany other person designated to assist students (Michigan StateUniversity N.P). These people can be useful as they are experiencedin dealing with international students. Also open up to fellowstudents about some petty issues that may be bothering you. This wayyou will have an easy time coping.
Finallybut not the least, one should chose coping strategies that suit them.Keeping in touch with friends and family is important, but it shouldnot become an obsession as this may hinder the coping process.Accepting the new status in the new country is the best way to moveon.
Ultimately,culture differences and experiences of culture shock are bothcritical learning tools. One is able to attain a high degree of selfcomprehension and grow as a person. By studying abroad, Hansel statesthat one is able to gain an excellent education in what it means tobe in the foreign country and also on how the rest of the world livesand perceives the world around them. There is no need to try and findones country in the foreign land (43). it is good to minimizecomparisons with home while abroad as doing so will make one miss somany of the wonderful experiences in the host country. Although onewill encounter down moments, they are easily forgotten once one haveadopted, that make one realize that, even these moments were worth.
Hansel,Bettina G. The exchange student survival kit. Boston:Intercultural Press, 2007. Print.
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StudyAbroad University of Illinois. DealingWith Culture Shock.Web. 28/05/2014<https://www.studyabroad.illinois.edu/resources/during/culture_shock.aspx>
TheUniversity of North Carolina at Greensboro International ProgramsCenter. Dealing With Culture Shock. Web. 28/05/2014<http://studyabroad.uncg.edu/index.cfm?FuseAction=Abroad.ViewLink&Parent_ID=A80D5B59-AA4D-15A6-E5DDC6A5F2566BDE&Link_ID=B2E2ACBC-E64C-9B58-6BC68A8B2295E9FF&pID=8&lID=11>
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