How to deal with culture shock and cultural differences

Culture Shock – how to cope with it?

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.

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.

To cope with culture shock, learn to recognize its symptoms.

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

The best strategy for coping with the various impacts of culture shock is to make a conscious effort to adjust to the new culture.

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. If these bad feelings last, you can contact the student desk for individual support.

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.

You can study art or music, or learn a new sport or martial art, being an interested student will make a world of difference. You can also become a member of an EPFL’s association.

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.

Eat well, exercise and take the time to sleep. Limit alcohol consumption.

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. Our coaching team may help you also regarding your daily life as well as your academic issues.

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.

Source : Affaires étrangères et Commerce international Canada –