One month is left before the fall semester begins. This is the time of year when many international students start packing their belongings, preparing all of the necessary documents, and joining farewell parties before embarking on a new chapter of their lives - studying abroad. However, many of them do not fully prepare mentally, resulting in culture shock when they finally land themselves in a completely different country full of strangers talking in an alien language that they are not familiar with.
Culture shock is a common psychological phenomenon when studying abroad for the first time, especially when going to a country where you know no one. Climate, cuisine, lifestyle, studying and working environment, and other factors can all play a part in it.
When you first arrive in a completely foreign country, you will be surprised by the way that people socialize, their routines, and their lifestyles. Culture shock is characterized by feelings of confusion, anxiety, fear, and even a desire to return to your home country when confronted with a completely different cultural environment.
Culture shock affects everyone in different ways, however, there are some signs that most international students often experience:
- Feeling isolated
- Wanting to withdraw yourself
- Always tired, sluggish
- Wanting to stay in your room only
- Always having a desire to come back home
- Feeling uncomfortable with people around
- Feeling unadapted to local culture
Culture shock will occur in many stages, with your emotions and adaptations changing dramatically over time. In 1955, Sverre Lysgaard – a Norwegian sociologist, introduced the U-curve concept which described the 4 stages of a culture shock experience, including the honeymoon stage, the shock, the adjustment, and then acceptance.
1. The Honeymoon stage:
The first feelings you will have when you step foot in the country you have always dreamed of will be joy and excitement. This is also understandable because you are excited to learn about new and exciting things that were previously only known through picture books.
At first, you will discover that the small shortcomings of the foreign land are still lovely. For example, the first snowdrops of the season will excite you so much that you will no longer be afraid of the upcoming winter's cold (if you come from a country having hot weather all year round) or the desire to go to your dream school for the first time makes you less afraid to squeeze into the crowded subway (if you come from a country that does not use the subway).
During the "honeymoon" stage, you will enjoy new experiences and explore new places.
2. The frustration stage:
The initial excitement will wear off, and you will become uneasy with the differences around you. And even if you may have gained numerous information or been warned by your relatives living abroad, you are still easily confused when confronted with similar situations in reality.
Language differences are one of the main factors that contribute to you feeling lost. You may feel lost in a foreign country if you cannot read street signs, understand informal language, slang, and jokes in everyday communication, and have previously only learned the academic and formal language. Although English is the most commonly used language in the world, most European countries use their own language, and believing that simply speaking English will help you live comfortably in these countries will quickly disillusion you. The lifestyle of the people around you will also overwhelm you and if you cannot follow it, you will feel left behind.
During this time, it is common to experience bouts of depression or homesickness.
3. The adjustment stage:
However, time, like people always say, will assist you in gradually adapting to the changes. Strange things will now become part of your daily routine, and you will gradually regain your life's balance. Instead of thinking that your new country's way of life is strange or unsuitable for you, you will come to understand why people live that way, and you’ll know you should too.
Knowing only English when you first arrived in Hungary was a disaster, but as you meet more native speakers and practice Hungarian with the help of your classmates, you will realize that it wasn't so bad after all! You will realize that all you need to do is open your heart and actively seek help and support from those around you, and everything will be fine.
4. The acceptance stage:
After a while, you will realize that the country in which you are studying has truly become a second home after your homeland. You will still feel homesick at times, missing your parents, siblings, friends, and so on, but your new friends and host family will become your support system.
From time to time, you will adjust to the local way of life without noticing too many differences between your home country and your new one.
To overcome the initial negative emotions and quickly adapt to the new environment, you should think positively and be proactive in life with a few small tips below:
- Research carefully before studying abroad. If there is someone, relative, or friend in your destination, that is great because you can ask a lot of things from them. However, even if you do not know anyone, it's okay to join the forums created by international students to share their experiences, which will cover everything from academics to places to visit. entertainment, entertainment… for your reference.
- Write down your goal. A few days after you have settled in, take a notebook and write down the goals you want to achieve, and the things you want to explore while studying abroad. When you feel depressed, and want to return to your home country, open it to see what you have not done, you will be motivated to continue trying for the good things that you have not achieved.
- Make your own great times. Find a hobby to keep you occupied when you are feeling bored. This is the time to find a series of movies that appeal to your tastes and watch them with a few friends or your host family/flatmates so that everyone can get to know each other better. You can also purchase a camera to capture beautiful landscapes and the people you care about.
- Learn to express your emotions. Don't be afraid to be out of the ordinary, culture shock is very common and affects almost every international student. You should discuss your problems with friends or host family to relieve stress, and they can provide you with a wealth of useful advice.
Culture shock is a meaningful experience that helps you change yourself to become more confident and mature while studying abroad. When you know how to overcome the fear of culture shock, you will have an unforgettable journey!
Edited by: Tom Culf
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