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All students, regardless of maturity, disposition, previous experience abroad, or knowledge of the country in which they be living, experience some degree of culture shock. Culture shock, the feeling of being lonely and overwhelmed in one’s new culture, is both a normal and predictable experience. In order to support your student as he or she experiences a new culture, it is important to understand this phenomenon and how to overcome it.
Culture shock is often described in terms of the phases which are most frequently experienced, but the length and severity of each phase entirely on the individual and his/her circumstances.
  1. Honeymoon Phase: initial arrival in host country up to one month; excitement and anticipation for the experience are dominant feelings
  2. Frustration/Distress Phase: occurs weeks to months into trip; feelings of anxiety, homesickness, and frustration with cultural differences set in; length of stage varies
  3. Negotiation/Adjustment Phase: most often during middle of stay as individual develops strategies to cope with difficulties and learns to adapt to host culture; length varies depending on individual
  4. Acclimation/Adaptation/Biculturalism Phase: typically towards the end of the experience; individual feels comfortable in host culture and has been able to integrate new experiences with pre-study abroad life; feeling of host country as “home”
  5. Reverse Culture Shock Phase: occurs upon return to country of origin; period of readjustment to life at home as individual may struggle to integrate life abroad with return to home culture and reconnect with family and friends
 Tips for Assisting with Cultural Adjustment:
  • Be prepared to hear some stories of frustration, and keep in mind that your student may be just looking for an understanding ear rather than asking you to solve the problem.
  • Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for students to call or e-mail home during moments of low morale but not when they are busy and things are going well. Consequently, families often picture a more negative situation than actually exists.
  • Read about your student’s country (i.e. CIA World Factbook page) to learn about the politics, economics, and social norms. Referencing these resources may provide your student with helpful information and help you better understand your student’s experience.
  • Encourage your student to reach out to his or her host institution or provider coordinator or the program leader for suggestions or assistance with adjusting. In addition to being in the country with your student, this person is also likely to be knowledge about other available resources.
  • Be prepared for your student to return somewhat changed by his or her experience. He or she may be homesick for host country foods or friends and may express frustration about returning home. Providing support, interest, and understanding will help with your student’s readjustment.

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