For most exchange students, October and November are the most difficult months of the exchange. Cultural differences that were fun and fascinating a month ago now feel annoying and cumbersome. The excitement and novelty of the host culture have worn off. Adapting has become exhausting. For many students, the exchange now feels more like hard work than the fun experience they were anticipating.
One of the problems with culture shock is that it can function very much like a microscope. It takes something small and somewhat annoying, like this:
and makes it seem huge and horrible, like this:
(Yes, this is a real fly—magnified)
While this period of the exchange might feel overwhelming at times, remember that culture shock is a normal part of the exchange experience, and most exchange students experience it to some degree. The symptoms of culture shock vary from one student to another, but here is a list of some of the most common ways it might show up.
There is no secret remedy that will magically eliminate culture shock. It will take patience and hard work to navigate this challenge and adapt to the host culture. However, while culture shock can't be skipped or eliminated entirely, there is a lot students can do to make it less severe and to get through it more quickly.
These things will HELP:
- Get involved! Join a sport or a club, take a dance or art class, volunteer in the community
- Focus on the positive. Make a list of what you like about your host family, school, community, culture. Also list happy memories you've had on exchange so far. Post this in your room and read it daily.
- Be patient, and remember the negative feelings will pass
- Get regular exercise. This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner. Go for a walk, swim, take an aerobics class, or go dancing.
- Limit contact with home. This includes calls, Skype, Facebook, texting, email, etc.
- Focus your efforts on relationships here. Build strong bonds with your host family and put effort into making friends—and remember that “real” friendships take time to build.
- Be friendly and enthusiastic – this will help you feel better and make friends faster
- Establish simple goals and evaluate your progress. Commit to make a new friend, learn a new skill, or improve your English. Celebrate progress, even if it’s small or slow.
- Maintain confidence in yourself. You can get through this! (And it will be worth the effort!)
- Talk to your host family about your feelings. Allow them to comfort and help you.
- Talk to your LC. They are here to help you get through this. Allowing them to help you through this time can be a wonderful bonding opportunity.
These things will make it WORSE and LAST LONGER:● Frequent contact with friends & family in your home country. (Calls, Skype, messaging, texting, emailing)
● Isolating yourself from others (i.e. spending lots of time alone or in your room)
● Refusing to try new things
● Getting advice from the wrong people. You may feel most comfortable sharing your problems with friends & family at home, but what works in your home country may not work here. Similarly, other exchange students understand how you feel, but they are still adapting too, and they don't yet fully understand the culture.
● Poor diet. Not eating enough or eating lots of junk food will affect your blood sugar which will affect your mood
● Wishing everything were “like home” or trying to make it that way. This is your opportunity to experience a new culture—make the most of it!
And just a little more advice:
Don’t make quick decisions. Some students are tempted to quit activities and commitments, request a host family change, or even go home. Avoid doing this unless you have thought it through over time and discussed it thoroughly with your host family and Local Coordinator.
Do not criticize your host family, school, community, or the U.S. This includes verbal comments, as well as social media posts--even subtle ones. Remember, you are here to promote goodwill and understanding, and once you speak or post words, the damage is done. If you have negative things to share, contact your LC.
On those hard days when this adventure seems a little too hard, remind yourself that things which seem huge and horrible to you now may look very different in just a month or two. As you adapt, you will have a different perspective.
Host families and students are encouraged to discuss this information together. Work to find solutions, and don’t hesitate to contact your LC for help and support.
Hang in there—culture shock won’t last forever, and good times are on the way!