Five Stages of Culture Shock
1. Initial Euphoria
At this point, everything is new and exciting. You will probably notice a lot of similarities between your home and host country, and the differences that you do notice are charming and refreshing. The first few weeks are also referred to as the “honeymoon” phase. You’re seeing new places, trying new foods, meeting new people, and you’re excited to learn about a whole new way of life…
After things start to settle down and the reality of daily routine sets in, you’re likely to notice more cultural differences and grow frustrated with local mannerisms. Speaking a foreign language can be stressful and difficult, and you may begin to feel misunderstood, depressed, and homesick.
3. Gradual Adjustment
Luckily, stage 2 does not last forever. Your English will slowly improve, you will begin to grow accustomed to social norms, and you will form meaningful relationships. You grow to appreciate the cultural contrast between two countries and remember why you decided to study abroad in the first place.
At this point, you begin to integrate the local culture and embrace the customs that were once alien. You can comfortably communicate with native speakers, and you no longer feel isolated from the local community. You have adjusted to American lifestyle, and you feel confident in your new-found identity living in a foreign country.
5. Reverse Culture Shock
Often times if you spend a long time living abroad you will experience a similar process when you return to your home country. Without realizing it, you have grown accustomed to the lifestyle in the States and upon returning back will see your native culture in a whole new light!
Coping with Stage 2
1. Learn about American culture
Understanding a culture and its values is the best way to begin to feel at home in a new country. Do some research! IELP releases a monthly newsletter and a calendar of activities, and these can be great resources to discover what’s happening on campus and around Seattle. Learn what the locals are doing and how you can get involved!
2. Make local friends
Having local friends will help a lot with improving your English and learning about American culture. As easy and tempting as it can be to only spend time with other international students, it is important that you move outside of your comfort zone and befriend people who don’t speak your language. IELP also offers a Language exchange program that will match you with another UW student or volunteer that is interested in learning about your language and culture. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
3. Make a REAL effort to learn the local language
The more of the local language you know, the easier your everyday life and studies will be. It is very tempting to exclusively spend time with other students from your home country during your time off, especially if your level of English is very low. However, this will result in only speaking and practicing English in a classroom setting-which you can do anywhere in the world! Take advantage of all of the English resources that surround you in Seattle; immersion is the quickest and most fun way to learn a new language. Doing your homework and going to class are good first steps-but the real progress happens outside of the classroom.
Writing in a journal is a great practice no matter where you are. However, while studying abroad, you will be doing experiencing new things every day and growing rapidly. You can write down what you love about the country during the honeymoon phase to look back on when you’re feeling depressed. If you want to further challenge yourself-try keeping a journal in English! While I was studying abroad in Spain I kept a journal in Spanish. Not only was it great language practice, but when I came back to the States I could reflect on the experience in depth. I could also see how much my Spanish improved over the course of my stay!
5. Talk it out
Although making local friends is important, connecting with other international students is also very helpful while adjusting to a new culture. Talk about the differences you’ve experienced-what you like, what you don’t like, what you miss about home, what you don’t miss about home. Talking to others experiencing the same transition is a great way to feel connected if you’re feeling lost in a new country. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your peers about how you’re feeling, UW also has a counseling center in Schmitz Hall: https://www.washington.edu/counseling/