The challenge of integration

When arriving in a new place, whether it be a city, a neighborhood, a new country or a new institution, it’s natural to feel a mix of excitement and apprehension.

Among the many challenges to face, two prove to be very important: building a network and understanding cultural differences.

Build a network

Building a solid social network when arriving in a new place is essential for integration, finding support, discovering new opportunities, and enriching one’s personal life. Investing some time and energy in building these relationships can be one of the best investments you can make for your well-being and success in your new environment.

Reach out and make friends. The other students in your class are probably experiencing the same feelings as you are. Friends can be a vital support network in both your personal and academic life.

  • Get in touch with Agepoly, the EPFL General Student Association, and find out more about their activities.
  • Take advantage of the numerous associations on campus and why not join one of them?
  • CMS or propaedeutic students, contact your coach: they are on hand to help you integrate into university social life.
  • Play sport at the UNIL-EPFL sports service!
  • Take advantage of the activities and get-togethers offered by the EPFL Chaplaincy.
  • Discover the cultural offers provided by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences which aim is to serve as a bridge between scientists, intelligentsia, artists and the general public.

Check the offer from the hosting university.

Understand the cultural differences


View our series on cultural differences! (access through GASPAR login) !

Culture Shock

Many people who travel or live abroad experience “culture shock”. Although its intensity varies from one person to another, most people experience a period of adjustment. It consists of several stages:

1st stage

During the first stage, usually described as the “honeymoon,” most encounters are perceived as exciting and positive.

2nd stage

But in the second stage, known as “culture shock,” foreigners feel a sense of dislocation and general unease. Symptoms include:

  • feelings of anger, discomfort, confusion, frustration or irritability and loss of sense of happiness;
  • withdrawal, spending excessive amounts of time alone, spending time only with people of their community or other foreigners and avoiding contact with locals;
  • negative feelings about the people and culture of the host country;
  • compulsive eating and drinking or a need of a lot of sleep;
  • tiredness, boredom, and an inability to concentrate or work effectively.

3rd stage

During the third and final stage, called “adjustment,” foreigners start to accept their new surroundings and make a compromise between the “honeymoon” and “culture shock” phases.

Be aware that you might experience “reverse culture shock” after living abroad. Be prepared for a period of readjustment when you return to your home country.

Coping Strategies

Here are some suggestions on how to make yourself feel more at home in your new surroundings:

It is not a sign of weakness to admit that you feel uncomfortable, tense or confused.

Try to understand how and why the local people act the way they do. Their behavior and customs may be different from your own, but they are neither better nor worse than what you are used to.

It always helps to understand as much as possible what people are saying. They will appreciate your effort to communicate with them in their language, even if it is just a few simple phrases, and it will make your daily life much easier. Carry a small notebook and write down a couple of new words each day. Use a phrase book to learn the vocabulary you need to cope with real-life situations. Take part in a French course of EPFL’s language center or do a tandem experience.

Take the time to be a tourist and explore the country’s sights.

Getting to know local people will help you overcome cultural differences and understand the country. It will also show you how to be more sensitive to cultural norms and expectations.

Writing home and talking about your experiences and problems can help you sort through them.

Listening to your favorite music or practicing a familiar hobby can boost your spirits when you are feeling homesick.

Try to make the most of your stay and adopt an open mind.

If time is running out and you feel you can’t get out of this delicate phase, don’t hesitate to ask for advice and support from the social consultation.


Social consultation

Social advisors are available to offer you support, work with you to find personalized solutions and refer you to the right specialists if necessary.