General Information

Coping with Culture Shock

Last Updated:

Eliot C. Heher, MD

Students’ coping skills determine the rapidity and degree of success in adjusting to their host country’s culture. To successfully adjust international students must maintain a sense of meaning to their lives, have a sense of competence, have friends and allow time for leisure activities.

A sense of humor is particularly important. Invariably, many things will discourage or embarrass an individual during a stay abroad–stumbling over the language and cultural cues, unfamiliar surroundings and the confusion that ensues. No matter how many emotional resources one may have, the ability to laugh things off and, as importantly, to laugh at yourself, will be paramount. “…research has proven that students…who are more able to relax and ride out events tend to be more effective and have a more enjoyable experience overseas.”

It is also important for individuals studying or living abroad to reduce expectations or simplify goals in order to avoid disappointment or disillusionment. It’s not surprising that research has proven that students, for example, who are less goal-oriented or task-driven, and more able to relax and ride out events tend to be more effective and have a more enjoyable experience overseas.

Other significant resources or traits that help students conquer Culture Shock are open-mindedness, empathy, flexibility, adaptability, curiosity, and communicativeness.

In conclusion, whenever individuals study, travel or live abroad, they invariably experience each stage of culture shock; yet, they ultimately acquire a larger view of the world and, by extension, of themselves. After experiencing Culture Shock, individuals develop increased sensitivity, broad-mindedness, and compassion; in essence, they mature. Returning home, they often experience reverse culture shock. They feel transformed, yet cannot adequately express or demonstrate this transformation to their friends and family, feeling isolated from their former environment.

In spite of these temporary feelings of displacement, the ultimate gifts of the entire experience are forgiveness, pride, and respect – forgiveness for themselves, for their limitations, and for their initial prejudices; pride in their abilities to adjust, conquer their prejudices and learn to appreciate differences; and respect for the culture that allowed them to see deeper into themselves than they ever thought possible.

For more information see:

Psychological Effects of International Study
The Four Stages of Culture Shock
The Opportunities & Challenges of International Study

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