Cultural Adjustment

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
  • An intense loyalty to your own culture
  • Upset stomach
  • 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.

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.