Adjustment and culture shock
What is culture shock?
Culture Shock refers to a feeling of disorientation or confusion that often occurs when a person leaves a familiar place and moves to an unfamiliar place. The reaction may be both physical and psychological, and some students may at some point wonder why they chose to leave their familiar surroundings. It is important to remember that living in a different culture is a learning process, and that most students return with greater self-confidence and the ability to manage in an intercultural environment.
Why you may experience culture shock
When you arrive abroad, you will no doubt encounter a multitude of new things. The food is not the same as it is at home, and familiar greetings such as ‘hello’ and ‘good day’, ‘thanks’ and ‘how are you doing’, may suddenly elicit completely different responses than the ones you are used to. People talk in a strange language and look different. University rules are different, and the way of studying may appear strange and difficult. Even if things seem very similar, they may not be, and suddenly everyday routine and simple actions become difficult and frustrating. It is often small differences that are most frustrating, as you think you know how to behave/do things, but you get a strange response. Your family and friends seem very far away.
To minimise the effect of culture shock it is important to acknowledge the existence of it, and to know and pay attention to the symptoms. Keep in mind that it is occurring as part of a learning process. Some of the typical symptoms of culture shock are:
- Boredom, loneliness
- Allergies, pain
- Obsession with own health
- Insomnia, excessive need of sleep
- Mood changes, depression, feeling powerless
- Anger, animosity towards other people
- Identification with and idealisation of home culture
- Trying to absorb everything within the new culture too fast
- Difficulty solving even the most simple problems
- Feeling insecure
- Development of stereo-types in the new culture
- Strong longing for family and friends back home
- Feeling overlooked
Dealing with culture shock
If you experience some of the above symptoms and experience feelings of loneliness or sadness, here are some ideas that may be helpful in dealing with culture shock:
- Accept that you cannot know everything about the new country and the language, and if it is overwhelming, take a break
- Keep an open mind – people abroad may say or do things that people at home would not do or say. But the people in the Netherlands act according to their own set of values, not yours. Try to avoid evaluating their behaviour by the standards you would use in your own country
- Try to do things that you did at home, listen to your favourite music and/or eat familiar food
- Stay in touch with family and friends at home
- Talk to a friend about your feelings
- Stay active – physical activity often helps!
- Learn from experience – moving to a new culture can be the most fascinating and educational experience of your life. There is no better way to become aware of your own values and attitudes or to broaden your point of view.