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Culture shock

Understanding culture shock

Culture shock is the feeling of being out of place in an unfamiliar environment. The initial excitement of moving to a new country often subsides when the new country challenges a lot of things that you have previously taken for granted. It is part of the process of learning about a new culture that is called “cultural adaptation”. You may experience feelings of stress, homesickness or frustration before you are able to function well in a new setting. This discomfort is the culture shock stage of the adaptation process. The most important thing to remember is that this is a very normal process and you’re not alone – almost everyone coming to a new culture will experience culture shock to some degree!

There are a number of stages in cultural adaptation process.

  1. Honeymoon
    After arriving in your new city, you will feel optimistic and excited about your new experience. You will be thrilled by new sights and embrace the differences between your home and your host culture.
  2. Frustration – Culture shock
    After some weeks or even months in your new environment, the differences that once seemed quaint or interesting may suddenly seem irritating or alarming. You may begin to experience negative feelings towards your new culture and this is the stage known as culture shock. Symptoms can include stress, homesickness, frustration, sadness and self-doubt. It’s important to remind yourself that everyone experiences culture shock in some way and these negative feelings are normal. Try to be patient and allow yourself time to work through this stage. See below for some tips on beating culture shock!
  3. Realisation
    Over time and after implementing some positive changes, you will begin to settle into your surroundings. You will once again begin to see the benefits of your international experience and recognise the reasons why your host country does things differently to your own.
  4. Adaptation
    Eventually, your new home will begin to feel like a second home. This adjustment to your new environment will mean you can make the most of your time abroad, allowing you to build meaningful connections and develop a new self-identity as a result of your experiences.

Though you may not recognise it, you will carry invisible “cultural baggage” with you when you travel. This contains the values of patterns of behaviour that are customary in your culture. The more aware you are of these values and patterns, the more easily you will be able to cope with the differences you encounter throughout your experience.

Tips to beat culture shock

  • Make Aussie friends! Find ways to meet as many people as possible. Join clubs, participate in campus activities, play sports, be ready to talk.
  • Speak English where you live – even if you all share another language! Practice makes perfect.
  • Observe people, listen to them and ask many questions. It is important not to judge people before you understand their values and customs.
  • Learn to laugh at the mistakes you will make from time to time. People in Australia come from many different cultural backgrounds and they will be happy to help you.
  • Explore the area you live in! Go for a walk or catch the free shuttle – you’ll feel more familiar with your surroundings and adapt more quickly. Plus the exercise and fresh air will do you good!
  • Take time to reflect, even write down feelings and observations in a journal
  • Have a routine that includes eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep
  • Celebrate successes and milestones – no matter how small!
  • Keep in contact with home – talking to them will help keep everything in perspective

If you need some help or you feel that your culture shock is really starting to get to you, we encourage you to come and see us at any time in Student Central (Counter #7) – we’re open from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday.

You can also speak to a Student Support Advisor (SSA) or a Counsellor at Building 11 who are happy to help you with any problems you have settling in to your new environment.

Reverse Culture Shock

You may be surprised to learn that you can suffer from culture shock when you return to your own country. Once you return home you may become abruptly aware that your perception of the world and your home has changed, even you have changed, whilst the people and customs at home have remained the same. Relearning the routines of your home or university may be difficult or frustrating now that you have become accustomed to a new lifestyle. At first you may even feel that you don’t belong anywhere!

It’s important to remember that these feelings and challenges are normal and common for returned students. If you apply the lessons learned during your time in Australia, you’ll soon be settled back into life at home before you know it!

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