By Mallaury Martin – Staff Writer

Going abroad can be both a life-changing experience and the hardest adventure ever. Living in another country helps see a different culture, and open your mind to the rest of the world. Being an international student is an amazing opportunity as you get to be in immersion in your host country, surrounded with other students from all around the world.

No one questions the benefits of traveling but there is one negative aspect that is very little talked about: culture shock. Even though the image everyone has of culture shock is the mere feeling of being homesick, or missing certain things from home, it actually is something bigger.

Culture shock can be defined as the physical and emotional expression of someone adapting to a culture different than their own. Let’s see then, in a more specific way, what culture shock is.

Adapting yourself to a different culture is not something that happens in a day, it is a process, and culture shock is part of this process. Sverre Lysgaard developed in 1955 a theory, named the U-curve adjustment theory about what you go through while in a new country, and the 4 phases of adapting to a new culture.

Go out, have fun, meet new people, and seize the opportunity

Arrival or the Honeymoon phase:

This phase is the very beginning of being in your host country. You just arrived and are eager to discover everything. This phase is the perfect time to go around and try and discover as much as you can of the new culture, this will without a doubt help you adapt faster.

The crisis phase:

This is what is widely called the culture shock, as it is when the symptoms appear. It is basically the time you start realizing every differences between your home and host countries, and when you begin feeling uncomfortable: you don’t necessarily know how to act or what to do in certain situations, you feel like you miss everything from home and every change seems like an added difficulty.

The recovery phase:

As the name indicates, this phase is when your general state starts getting better. Your mood is better, you have more energy and get your motivation back. It is to be noted however that this phase is not said to be consistently good, as there can be some ups and downs before you get to the final stage.

The adjustment phase:

Final stage of the whole process, this is when you are finally done with the adaptation to the new culture. From this point on, you start feeling like you fit into the new culture. This theory also highlights the fact that, after an extended stay, this whole process can also start again when coming back to your home country.

The term ‘symptoms’ would probably not quite apply in this case, as culture shock is not a disease, but more an uneasiness.It can, however, have very concrete impressions on you, whether physical, mental or even both. These impressions of culture shock vary from one person to another.

On the emotional side, you may experience the famous feeling of homesickness, a low mood or a certain aggressivity, the need to isolate yourself and to stay alone, a loss of motivation to work or struggle to focus, and especially a very acute sense of criticism towards the host country.

The most surprising and unknown type of symptoms however remain the physical ones. Little people know that culture shock can manifest itself through very concrete and physical sensations. It can be that, even after an eight hour sleep you still wake up extremely tired and are always in need of a nap. You can also experience a loss of appetite, or in the contrary an over-developed appetite and the need to eat every five minutes.

There is clearly not one remedy to culture shock as it is obviously different for everybody, so my main advice would be to listen to yourself and your needs first and foremost. However, certain habits could help ease the process of adapting to the new culture and could maybe shorten the process.

The main thing you can do is embrace the new culture and stop comparing everything to your home country. Some things are evidently going to be different, whether it is food, clothes, social conventions, education system, politics, etc. but if you stop for a second and try to not think “this works better in my home country”, you might find that things are not better or worse, they are simply different.

Once you have stopped making a detailed comparison of everything surrounding you, make the effort to discover new things. Go out, have fun, meet new people, and seize the opportunity of expanding your knowledge on whatever you have the chance to.

Staying alone might be okay for a little while, but in the long run, it is always positive to have people around you to share what you are going through with. Who knows, maybe they are going through the same thing?

If you are experiencing difficulties adjusting, visit:

Image credit: Racho_m

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