Culture shock is defined as a lack of direction, feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate in a new environment. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of arriving at a new place. Symptoms of culture shock include:

  • Comparisons and unwarranted criticism of the new culture and people
  • Constant complaints about the climate
  • Heightened irritability
  • Preoccupation with returning home
  • Continuous excuses for staying indoors
  • Utopian ideas about one’s previous culture
  • Continuous concern about the purity of water and food
  • Refusal to learn the language
  • Preoccupation about being robbed or cheated
  • Pressing desire to talk with people who “really make sense”

Dealing With Culture Shock

These are a few strategies to cope with the stress of culture shock. Remember, these are easier said than done, so students will really need to push themselves to act on the following:

  • Realize that this is a normal process
  • Don’t be quick to judge and keep an open mind
  • Set some personal goals and evaluate your progress
  • Get involved in activities or find a hobby
  • Talk to your Site Staff– they can help!
  • Make an appointment to see an on-site mental health professional
  • Ask questions
  • Exercise
  • Be patient and don’t compare
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Treat yourself to your must-haves from a specialty market
  • Allow yourself to feel sad about the things that you have left behind, such as your family and friends
  • Find ways to live with the things that don’t completely satisfy you

Reverse Culture Shock

Not only may students experience culture shock while living in a foreign country, but they may also encounter reverse culture shock, which occurs when students return to their home country after being away for an extended period of time. Symptoms of reverse culture shock resemble those of culture shock.