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Culture Shock

Almost all International students go through a turbulent period while adjusting to life in a new environment. During this time you may go through a wide range of emotions, from fascination and excitement, to loneliness and frustration.

Leaving all that is familiar in your own culture and trying to adapt to a new cultural, social and academic environment is often a challenging experience. However, research indicates that those who are more flexible, adaptable, with a high level of tolerance and good social skills are better in dealing with these challenges.

Challenges of Living and Studying in a new Country

  1. Separation from your loved ones,
  2. Adapting to a new academic, social, cultural and political context,
  3. Feeling that you are expected to change all the usual ways of doing things in order to fit into a new culture,
  4. Feeling that you have lost your cultural identity.

Phases of Adjustment

Your ability to adapt culturally leads to a more successful academic, social, and personal life. However, settling-in and adjusting to a new environment takes time for everyone. Although there is not a time frame for how long cultural adjustment may take, there are three main stages that everyone goes through.

Honeymoon Phase: This is a stage of extreme happiness, fascination and excitement. You are independent as you have control over your life. You are very positive about being in a new cultural environment and confident in yourself.

Distress phase: This is the time when you begin to interact with the culture. Coming across unusual and unpredictable behaviours of people, you begin to question or even dislike the culture. You may feel frustrated with the unknown and disappointed with your new environment and yourself. You may also feel confused and anxious about who you are and how you behave. You may feel lonely, homesick and question your decision about coming to study in Australia. All these feelings and symptoms are a result of culture shock.

Adjustment Phase: You begin to know people and the culture better. You start making more sense of the culture and feel more comfortable in living in your new environment. This is also a stage when you notice that right and wrong are subjective to different cultures. In time you adopt certain behaviours and may even prefer certain aspects of the new culture to your home culture.

Symptoms of Culture Shock

  • Cultural isolation
  • Loss of identity and importance
  • Extreme homesickness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Overeating/ loss of appetite
  • Lack of motivation
  • Excessive sleepiness/ deprivation of sleep
  • Frustration with the unfamiliar
  • Inexplicable stress or sadness
  • Aches and pains
  • Panic

Some Socio-cultural Competences to overcome Culture Shock

Regardless of how painful the adjustment period may be, your experiences during this time broaden your horizons and contribute to your personal growth.

  • Learn more about Australian social customs. The more you know the easier it will be to understand the way people behave and their expectations
  • Don’t idealise home, nor criticise everything in the new culture
  • Be prepared for the ups and downs of the adjustment period and keep in mind that it is a process every student goes through
  • Be proactive and initiate conversations with people
  • Be flexible and adaptable - Remember that there is not necessarily only one way of doing things
  • Eat a well balanced diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Remember that too much alcohol consumption can contribute to depression and too  much caffeine can increase your level of anxiety
  • Join social clubs, participate in social activities and events in and off campus, try to meet different people from different cultures and share your culture and life with others
  • Keep in touch with fellow students from your own culture. It is often very comforting to be able to talk in your mother tongue
  • Share your feelings with friends who are exactly in the same position
  • Visit ISAs, counsellors, your personal adviser, staff at multi-faith centre who can help you adjust to your new environment
  • Watch signs of culture shock which may lead to depression, and immediately seek help from a counsellor

Tips to improve your Academic success

  • Make sure you attend all orientation sessions and activities. This will enable you to familiarise your self with the campus, meet staff from different areas and learn about support services available.
  • Improve your English skills. Not being able to communicate can create a feeling of loneliness and isolation
  • Teaching and learning style in your new academic environment may be different from your previous experience. Most International students find it academically more challenging to study in Australia as there is a greater demand for student responsibility. So it is important that you prepare yourself for the academic challenges and improving your study skills by participating in the Academic Skills Program workshops, as well as making use of other resources available on campus (please refer to Guide to Student Support Services).
  • Know your resources and expand your support system.
  • Actively participate in lectures and tutorials and group work by freely expressing your views.

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