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Cultural Adjustment

For many students, arriving in a new place can be both exciting and anxiety-producing. This may be a common reaction for any student moving to a new community. Special challenges face students who are also moving to a new and possibly radically different culture.

Most students will experience a challenging period of adjustment after moving to a new culture or place. You may find the language, weather, geography, food, and ways of relating to others strange or even inferior to what you’re used to. For others, everything may seem great at first. It’s only after more time has passed that you begin to feel the symptoms of cultural shock.

Symptoms of Culture Shock
  • Extreme homesickness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling sick much of the time
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Excessive cleanliness/feeling things are "dirty"
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • An intense loyalty to your own culture
  • A dislike or annoyance with the new culture
  • Depression
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased pain with minor injuries
  • Sleep problems
When Counseling Can Help

IU Health Center offers two free counseling sessions per semester if you have paid the IU Health Fee. Consider scheduling an appointment if:

  • You have been experiencing symptoms of culture shock that do not improve over time.
  • You feel generally overwhelmed and need help sorting things out.
  • You have a history of anxiety, depression, or stress and are experiencing familiar symptoms.
Self-Help for Culture Shock

Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat well. When stress increases, you can forget to take care of yourself. During an initial move or big change, it is especially important to take care of basic needs.

Stay active. It is equally important to continue to remain active during times of increased stress. Remember to get out of your residence regularly by going on walks, visiting places around town, and attending campus events of interest.

Take a minute to appreciate your accomplishments. Recognize what is going well. Congratulate yourself on everything you have already accomplished—it’s not easy. And reflect on the strength that is required to make such a move.

Make new friends. Meeting new people and spending time in your new community are important steps in the acculturation process. Consider joining a conversation club to work on your English. You’ll meet people from the area as well as other students who are going through the same feelings you are.

Avoid using alcohol and illicit drugs to self-medicate. Alcohol and drug use can add to your problems.

Other Ways to Cope

Talk about what you are experiencing. It can be helpful to find someone with whom you can share reactions and experiences—positive and negative. Friends and family can offer good advice and support during a difficult time. Telephone and email offer the possibility of instant comfort and support from someone who cares about you.

Be patient. Even though it may seem that you are the only one dealing with such a problem, you are not alone. There are many students who struggle with acculturation and adjustment when coming to a new place. This adjustment will take time and practice in order to feel comfortable.

Seek out other students of your same cultural and ethnic background. Share special food preparations and traditions from your home country with others. At Indiana University, you’ll find many cultural centers, resources, and clubs where you can share experiences with others who may be going through similar situations. These include:

Asian Culture Center (ACC)
807 E. 10th Street, Phone: (812) 856-5361

Latino Cultural Center (La Casa)
715 East 7th Street, Phone: (812) 855-0174

Neal-Marshall Black Cultural Center
275 N. Jordan Avenue, Phone: (812) 855-0174

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services Office (GLBT Office)
705 E. 7th Street, Phone: (812) 855-4252

Culture Shock Affects American Students

You can still experience culture shock even if you come from the United States. You may be from a more urban setting, a more ethnically and racially diverse community, or a physical environment that looks and feels very different.