Being an international student can be challenging at times. New surroundings, new people, new culture, and being far away from home; it can be quite overwhelming and disorienting for new students and even for adults. This phase is known as culture shock.

What is Culture shock?

Culture shock refers to the anxiety one feels being in a cultural environment that is different from what they are used to; this can include language, customs, gestures, signs and symbols. In this post we explain the phases and symptoms that may indicate you are experiencing culture shock. Read on!

Culture shock and the different feelings we experience.

1. Honeymoon Phase

This is the first stage of culture shock; it is usually the peak point. At this stage, most things are new and intriguing. Moreover, infatuation comes in to play, and everything you envisioned seems to be coming true. From the way you interact with others, to the food, clothing and music; it may seem similar to what you see in the movies. Chandni, AHEC’s senior education consultant, describes her first days after arriving in the US as pure bliss and everything she ever imagined. But as time went on, she started missing the familiarity of home, and her friends and family more.

2. Frustration Phase

This is also known as the “What I’m I doing here?” stage. This is when reality sets in. You may feel a hostile and aggressive attitude towards the host country and its people. This is a result of the frustrations of trying to adapt into the new environment. It is very normal to feel bouts of depression, frustration and homesickness during this phase. I remember my first day of high school in the US; it was such a nightmare because it was so different than what I was used to: the daily assignments, mastering where all my classes were, making friends, and even using a computer for everything. I felt out of place and like I did not belong.

3. Adjustment Phase

This is the stage when frustrations begin to dilute as you become familiar with how the system works, and you begin to feel comfortable with the new culture and surroundings. The self-confidence brought by this new found “ability to cope” brings out the feeling of acceptance. Personally, I learned to adjust my expectations and adapt my behavior.

As the school year continued, my grades declined as I struggled to adjust. Once I started to make friends in my various classes, it helped boost my self-esteem because they were a support system. I even started participating in class discussions, which was a huge step for me! Some days would take a toll on me as I had to speak English all day and I needed to let my mind recover; some nights I would sleep more than 10 hours. Don’t panic if you experience a need to recover. Studies show it’s perfectly normal.

4. Recovery Phase

At this stage you have mastered the trend. It’s not all smooth but you’ve got the hang of it. This is the stage where most students confirm the saying, “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different.” At this stage you get more involved in school and activities, and you begin to feel more connected and accepted. This is when I discovered my passion for theatre arts, because I was able to explore different activities at school. This is when you come out of that cocoon, and go back to feeling like your “normal self” when you first arrived.

5. Reverse Culture Shock

This is the final stage of the culture shock rollercoaster. When you return to your home country after an extended period of time abroad, it can feel disorienting and oftentimes more negative or challenging than culture shock itself. Our Assistant Director, Laura, has lived in Kenya for five years and has traveled home to the US three times. Each time she feels less connected to her identity as an American, and she longs to leave again to return here. Before her most recent trip home to Minnesota, she reminded herself of the stress of reverse culture shock and to keep her expectations realistic.

Below is a curve to show the stages and how they affect you from the beginning to the end.

By Genevieve Mohamed

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