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International Students and Culture Shock
Transcript of International Students and Culture Shock
Leaving home and traveling to study in a new country
can be a stressful experience. Even though it may be
something you have planned and prepared for,the extent
of the change and the effects it has on you may take
you by surprise. If you find that you are surprised by the
effects of the change, it might be helpful to realise that
your experience is quite normal. This applies whatever
country you come from, and wherever you are going to
study, even though some cultures are more similar than
others because of geographic, historic, demographic and
A MODEL OF CULTURE SHOCK
The process of culture shock can be illustrated by a
model known as the “W” curve (see diagram). This model may not relate to your experience or only partially. Sometimes the process is faster or slower. Many people go through different phases of the process of adjustment several times, so
parts of the curve in the diagram may repeat themselves.
For instance, at significant times such as important
family dates or festivals you may feel distressed or
lonely,while at other times you feel quite settled.
However, many people have reported that this model
has reflected something of their experience and they
have found it helpful to realise they are not the only
ones to have had these feelings. The process can be
broken down into 5 stages:
WHAT IS CULTURE SHOCK?
“Culture shock” describes the impact of moving from
a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar. It is an
experience described by people who have traveled
abroad to work, live or study; it can be felt to a certain
extent even when abroad on holiday. It can affect
anyone, including international students. It includes
the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new
people and learning the ways of a different country.
It also includes the shock of being separated from the
important people in your life, maybe family,friends,
colleagues,teachers: people you would normally talk to
at times of uncertainty, people who give you support and
guidance.When familiar sights,sounds,smells or tastes
are no longer there you can miss them very much. If you
are tired and jet-lagged when you arrive small things can
be upsetting and out of all proportion to their real
The following are some of the elements that contribute
to culture shock:
Many students find that the British climate affects them
a lot.You may be used to a much warmer climate, or you
may just find the greyness and dampness, especially
during the winter months, difficult to get used to.
You may find British food strange. It may taste different,
or be cooked differently, or it may seem bland or heavy
compared to what you are used to. If you are in self catering accommodation and unused to cooking for yourself, you may find yourself relying on “fast” food instead of your usual diet. Try to find a supplier of familiar food, and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
Constantly listening and speaking in a foreign language
is tiring. If English is not your first language, you may
find that you miss your familiar language which at home
would have been part of your everyday environment.
Even if you are a fluent English speaker it is possible that
the regional accents you discover when you arrive in the
UK will make the language harder to understand. People
may also speak quickly and you may feel embarrassed to
ask them to repeat what they have said.
If you come from a warm climate, you may find it
uncomfortable to wear heavy winter clothing. Not all students will find the British style of dress different but, for some, it may seem immodest, unattractive, comical or simply drab.
Social behaviour may confuse, surprise or offend you.
For example you may find people appear cold and
distant or always in a hurry. This may be particularly
likely in the centre of large cities. Or you may be
surprised to see couples holding hands and kissing in
public. You may find the relationships between men and
women more formal or less formal than you are used to,
as well as differences in same sex social contact and
As well as the obvious things that hit you immediately
when you arrive,such as sights,sounds,smells and
tastes, every culture has unspoken rules which affect the
way people treat each other. These may be less obvious
but sooner or later you will probably encounter them
and once again the effect may be disorientating. For
example there will be differences in the ways people
decide what is important, how tasks are allocated and
how time is observed. The British generally have a
reputation for punctuality. In business and academic life
keeping to time is important. You should always be on
time for lectures, classes, and meetings with academic
and administrative staff. If you are going to be late for
a meeting do try to let whoever you are meeting know.
Social life is a little more complicated. Arranging to
meet to see a film at 8pm means arriving at 8pm. But
if you are invited to visit someone’s home for dinner at
8pm, you should probably aim to arrive at about ten
minutes after eight, but not later than about twenty
past. When going to a student party an invitation for
8pm probably means any time from 9.30 onwards!
These subtle differences can be difficult to grasp and
can contribute to culture shock.
Although you may first become aware of cultural
differences in your physical environment, e.g.food,
dress, behaviour, you may also come to notice that
people from other cultures may have very different
views of the world from yours. Cultures are built on
deeply-embedded sets of values, norms, assumptions
and beliefs. It can be surprising and sometimes distressing
to find that people do not share some of your most
deeply held ideas, as most of us take our core values and
beliefs for granted and assume they are universally held.
As far as possible,try to suspend judgment until you
understand how parts of a culture fit together into a
coherent whole. Try to see what people say or do in the
context of their own culture’s norms. This will help you
to understand how other people see your behaviour, as
well as how to understand theirs.When you understand
both cultures, you will probably find some aspects of
each that you like and others that you don’t.
1. The “honeymoon” stage
When you first arrive in a new culture, differences are
intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and
curious. At this stage you are still protected by the close
memory of your home culture
2. The “distress” stage
A little later, differences create an impact and you
may feel confused, isolated or inadequate as cultural differences intrude and familiar supports (eg family or
friends) are not immediately available.
3. “Re-integration” stage
Next you may reject the differences you encounter. You may feel angry or frustrated, or hostile to the new
culture. At this stage you may be conscious mainly of how much you dislike it compared to home. Don’t worry, as this is quite a healthy reaction. You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and
your own culture.
4. “Autonomy” stage
Differences and similarities are accepted. You may feel
relaxed, confident, more like an old hand as you become more familiar with situations and feel well able to cope
with new situations based on your growing experience.
5. “Independence” stage
Differences and similarities are valued and important. You may feel full of potential and able to trust yourself in all kinds of situations. Most situations become
enjoyable and you are able to make choices according to your preferences and values.
SOME OF THE EFFECTS OF CULTURE SHOCK
Some of the symptoms of culture shock can be worrying themselves. For example, you may find your health is affected and you may get headaches or stomach aches or you may start worrying about your health more than previously. You may find it difficult to concentrate and as a result find it harder to focus on your course work.Other people find they become more irritable or tearful and generally their emotions seem more changeable. All of these effects can in themselves increase your anxiety.
HOW TO SURVIVE?
Though culture shock is normally a temporary phase, it is important to know there are things you can do to help so that some of these worrying effects can be minimised. Don’t feel “this isn’t going to happen to me”.Culture shock can hit you whatever culture you come from and however experienced or well-traveled you are.
Use the university or college services, where there will be professional and experienced staff. For example the health service, the counselling service, the International Office or hall wardens will provide a friendly, listening ear. Even if at home you wouldn’t consider such steps, in the UK it is quite normal and they may help when your familiar helpers are missing. If you are finding settling down difficult, your personal tutor probably also needs to know. She or he may be able to help, particularly with adjusting to a different academic system
Keeping in touch with home is an important part of living in a different country. The internet makes it very easy to maintain regular contact, for example by using web-based chat or voice calls, or by sharing news, information and photos of your life in the UK through online social networks
Simply understanding that this is a normal experience may in itself be helpful
Take regular exercise. As well as being good for your health it can be a way of meeting people.
Maintaining very regular (perhaps daily) contact with home, especially when you first arrive, or if you are finding aspects of life in the UK challenging, can actually make the process of settling in more difficult
Have familiar things around you that have personal meaning, such as photographs or ornaments
Culture shock is entirely normal, usually unavoidable and not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won’t manage
There are very positive aspects of culture shock. The experience can be a significant learning experience, making you more aware of aspects of your own culture as well as the
new culture you have entered.
It will give you valuable skills that will serve you in many ways now and in the future and which will be part of the benefit of an international education.