Dealing with Culture Shock as an Overseas Student
Lectures, presentations, deadlines, revision, exams… being a student is difficult enough, but when you suddenly have to deal with all of these things in a totally alien environment, far away from the support of family and friends, it can make the situation harder still.
There can be new languages to learn, new climates to get used to, new customs and values to observe – all of which make forming relationships and developing a sense of belonging more challenging.
The feelings of disconnection, loneliness and uncertainty which sometimes develop after a move overseas are known as culture shock.
Culture shock can affect anyone suddenly confronted with an unfamiliar culture and a set of beliefs/attitudes/way of life that they aren’t used to. Things which are viewed as a novelty during a holiday or short trip it can become difficult to deal with during prolonged spells abroad.
So if you’re thinking of studying overseas check out our top tips for tackling culture shock!
Researching your future home before you go is essential, and so is acknowledging that it probably isn’t going to be perfect. Accept that there are going to be ups and downs, good aspects and bad aspects, and it will lessen any disappointments and ensure you look forward to your new life realistically, rather than idealistically!
Learning the language of your host nation before you go isn’t always possible, but do try to learn at least some basic words and phrases. The more you can say and understand the easier you will find the transition, and making an effort with a native tongue can really change the way locals view and treat you.
Everyone has that favourite object which holds a particular special meaning, be it a book, photo album or old teddy. Make sure to bring that aspect of your old life with you to your new life, so in more testing moments you have an easily accessible source of comfort.
You might also want to consider what things won’t be available in your new country, food stuffs for example. If there’s a brand of biscuits or a type of chocolate bar you know you’re really going to miss during stressful exam periods, arrange with a friend or relative to have some sent out to you on a monthly basis. It might cost you a bit in postage but it’ll give you a link to home and something to look forward to through the first few difficult months.
Making new friends can be difficult, and if you’re studying in an institution with a high number of expat students it may be tempting to try and get in with a social group with a similar background/culture to your own. While expat friends are great, if you really want to feel as though you belong in your host nation attempt to make ties with local students. They can help you improve your language skills, show you the best places to hang out and may open your eyes to a new world of opportunities. You could even begin to make friends before you touch down in your host country by connecting with fellow students on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Establishing a connection and knowing you’ll have someone to talk to on your first day might help you feel less like the new kid in school!
Finally, while it’s really important to acknowledge and respect how your host country does things, consider explaining your favourite familial/national traditions to your new friends and see if they’ll help you keep them alive in your foreign location.