How to deal with culture shock while studying abroad

Experiencing new cultures and meeting people from all walks of life is what helps to shape you into an interesting person.

In the beginning, studying in a new and unfamiliar country can be a challenge; but you can handle a challenge, can’t you?

Even the most confident people can feel homesick and experience the infamous culture shock. Keep reading to discover our top tips to overcome it.

Students jumping on the beach together

What is culture shock?

Definition: to feel disorientated, out of place and confused when being subjected to an unfamiliar culture.

When you first leave home and arrive in a new country you may feel lonely and scared, you may miss your family and wonder if you’ve made the right decision.

Studying abroad is not only the path to a brighter future and your dream career. It’s also an adventure where you’ll become friends with inspiring and intelligent people, while experiencing the world from new perspectives.

Diego from Columbia studying at INTO London

Diego from Columbia says,

you can learn a lot of things from different cultures, that sometimes you cannot learn in your own country.”

Diego studied an International Foundation in Business and Economics with Society and Culture at INTO City University of London.

What are the causes of culture shock?

Experiencing culture shock is different from person to person.

From not knowing anyone to trying to figure out how to use the public transport systems. Even unfamiliar food and missing home comforts can contribute to making you feel overwhelmed at first.

Stephanie, from Hong Kong told us,

I really missed Chinese food at first, and I wasn’t very good at cooking. But it wasn’t long before I made friends in halls, we all loved cooking together.”

Duck restaurant eating out in tianjin

Don’t be daunted that you’ll be living away from your family! This is an opportunity for you to become more independent and learn to manage your own time.

Learning how to cook and clean for yourself won’t happen overnight… but practice makes perfect.

How to overcome culture shock?

As a student, you’ll have a strong network of people around you, from student services to teachers. Also, your fellow students will probably all be feeling the same, so together you can overcome culture shock.

Top tips for overcoming culture shock:

  • Before you leave home, research your host country so you feel prepared.
  • When you first arrive, write down what you love about your host country to look back on when you may be feeling a little down.
  • Push yourself to make new friends – talk to everyone. Be a social butterfly.
  • If you’re feeling lost or upset, talk to people about it. A problem shared is a problem halved.
  • Speak to friends and family back home often. It’s so easy with Skype and FaceTime to catch up regularly.
  • Join clubs, sports clubs and societies. You’ll meet other international and home students with similar passions to you.
  • Organise activities with your housemates. Cooking together is a fun way to bond and learn about other cultures.

Chelsea from Malaysia says,

I was quite happy and shocked that strangers just smile at you and say hi.”

Chelsea studied an Undergraduate Sciences Pathway at INTO Colorado State University.

Culture shock shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing; see it as a chance to experience something new, meet new people and grow as a person.

After all, life begins at the end of your comfort zone.  

Discover how five students from five continents overcame culture shock.  

Find out more about how you can broaden your horizons by studying in the UK, US and China

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