Stages of Culture Shock

Living abroad can be a very exciting experience for anyone but even more exciting for people who have never traveled before. Being exposed to a new culture can expand your horizons and your way of thinking in so many different ways, it will increase your cultural curiosity level and will encourage you to explore the unfamiliar.


There is always a downside  everything, and the downside of living abroad is experiencing culture shock. Most international students go through it With moving to a new country to study can be overwhelming because students shift from a familiar culture to unfamiliar one.


Dr. Jayita Datta, a psychologist in the University Psychological Services, defines culture shock as a series of reactions and experiences that many students face when they leave their home and go to a new country.


“It is very commonly said that students who are arriving in the United States from another country will experience culture shock, in terms of dealing with different concerns like weather changes, academic demands, missing home, feeling isolated, making new friends and managing how to cook the food that they used to eat when they're back home,” Datta said.


As an international student myself, I thought I knew everything about the culture because I was exposed to pop culture and TV shows, I didn’t think for one second that I  experience culture shock, but as time passed I realized that there are things that I don’t know and I’m completely on my own to figure them out.


Studying abroad in a completely different culture means massive changes in your daily life. International students go through a predictable series of stages as they adjust to living in a new country.  


The first stage is the honeymoon stage.  happens first arrive to a new country and are fascinated with the foreign culture, it is often very positive to students.


“The initial stage is the honeymoon stage, people really enjoy coming to a new country because they are really excited,” Datta said. “They have heard good things about the environment, about academics, about the job and about the prospects.”


Datta said that the honeymoon stage is very accelerating because the feeling of enthusiasm wears off quickly and once the reality hits, they start encountering culture shock. This stage is called the frustration stage.  


“This stage happens around the third to sixth month, which is right after the honeymoon stage, when they are initially adjusting,” Datta said. “Then they get a big shock that, oh my God, what am I doing? I don't know how to speak English like Americans do.”


The frustration stage can last for more than six months and it can prolong for a few years because it’s the most difficult stage of culture shock.  In this stage, students start to feel confused and isolated, and they realize that the familiar is no longer reachable. 


“If you're having difficulty dealing with the weather or making new friends or you're missing your partner or your spouse and then you don't have anything to look forward to, Datta said. “Then most likely the culture shock who and take a long time to deal with.”


Datta said that students have difficulty engaging and having a social life over the weekend because they don’t know how to make friends from different cultures.


“It's okay to invite people from different countries or from your class so that there's an exchange of ideas, you learn and they will learn, and there's always the small level of anxiety that will be there if you're interacting with people from different cultures,” Datta said. “That anxiety is okay.” 


In this stage, international students may tend to isolate themselves when they feel alone. They oversleep and can sometimes engage in excessive alcohol and drug use. Datta said that the way to overcome that is to make friendships. 


“Invite Americans and people from different cultures to any festival that you are celebrating because once you mingle with different people from different cultures, your mental health improves,” Datta said. “Then you also have a broader understanding of how the world works. How America works.” 


The independence stage happens after the frustration stage t’s when students embrace the new culture and things start to become more comfortable and they no longer feel alone or isolated. They understand the culture more and start making their own values and preferences. 


“The best adjusted person is someone who is adapting to a bicultural assimilation, that means you are adapting to the new culture but you're also keeping the rules of your family and your home culture,” Datta said. “And those are the people who are well adjusted, who are not dealing with anxiety and depression anymore.”


Datta said that students should remain open and flexible in terms of dealing with culture shock because they’re experiencing new things. Staying in touch with family and friends is important. 


“If you forget your family and friends, you are rushing to adjust and adapt and learn about the new culture, that means you are assimilating more and forgetting about your culture. That might be a challenge. That means you're forgetting your roots.”


Even though culture shock can be one of the most difficult experiences when traveling, it is just as integral to the experience as people and food. By acknowledging it for what it is and finding ways to adjust, you can prevent culture shock from destroying your amazing experience abroad.


Psychological Services provides confidential mental health services to students which include: crisis intervention; individual, couples, and group therapy; psychological testing; and substance abuse evaluation and treatment. Our staff works collaboratively with University Health Services’ medical and psychiatric providers to address medication needs.


In order to schedule an appointment, please call the office at (330) 672-2487 during regular business hours.  Students will be asked to provide general information about their presenting concerns so that they can be scheduled appropriately. 


Article written by Sara Al Harthi