Culture Shock: What it is and How to Manage it

What is "Culture Shock?"

“Culture shock” is the experience of feeling anxious, confused, homesick or lost while living in a foreign culture. These feelings arise when the host culture creates unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable experiences as a part of daily life. This is a common experience for international students who come to study in the United States and for international travelers in general. Alongside the joy and excitement of travel, many students who come to study English as a second language (ESL) at The English Island in Atlanta, Georgia, USA find themselves confronting feelings associated with culture shock as they transition to life in the United States. However, the good news is that culture shock is a temporary part of adjusting to a new place and after the adjustment period, many students and travelers feel rewarded by appreciating their new surroundings.

The English Island in Atlanta, Georgia, USA provides English as a second language (ESOL) classes for F-1 Visa students from all over the world. The student body, therefore, consists largely of students who may have had little to no experience with American culture. Some students feel overwhelmed by how “big” things are in the United States. Americans tend to drive large (some would say “oversized”) vehicles compared to the compact vehicles driven in many other countries. Students can feel a sense of discomfort with the large highways and the even larger portion sizes at restaurants. Likewise, social expectations in the United States can be very different from those of other countries. Many students are not accustomed to having banter with strangers in public referred to as small talk. These things and more are part of daily life in the United States, and most United States citizens take these for granted as inherent to the way we live. Therefore, it is important to find a community of support from people who understand and relate to going through culture shock, such as the student body at The English Island.

Stages of Culture Shock

So, what are some of the stages of culture shock that students may expect to encounter when coming to study in the United States? Believe it or not, the initial stage of culture shock is actually a honeymoon phase. A “honeymoon phase” is a term used in English to describe initial feelings of joy and eagerness about a new experience or change.  The term derives from the vacation that newlyweds often take after a marriage ceremony. Students who are new to the United States oftentimes feel a rush of positivity in the honeymoon phase as everything they encounter is new and exciting. However, anxiety and confusion can overtake the feelings of joy and positivity as the reality of living in a foreign culture begins to set in.

This second phase is usually the hardest for students. This phase is characterized by an intensification of anxiety that replaces the honeymoon phase. One important thing that can help students navigate feelings of stress and isolation is a strong community. The teachers and student body at The English Island in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, provide a strong support structure for students who are struggling with the fast pace and busy way of life in the United States. By talking to fellow students, finding time on the weekends to enjoy group outings, discussing challenges with the faculty and staff at The English Island, and staying in touch with family members back home, students may find themselves slowly adapting to their new home away from home. Thankfully, adjusting to a new culture will gradually alleviate the anxiety of culture shock, which will lead to the third and final phase: adjustment.

Adjusting to a foreign host culture provides a rewarding experience of learning to rely on oneself, appreciating new surroundings, and embracing the unknown. Many travelers describe their experiences abroad as life changing, deeply fulfilling and transformative. Adjusting to a new way of life is not easy, however, and as stated before, finding the right support structure of people to talk to and spend time with makes a big difference. Regarding managing the stress of adjustment, here are a few methods that can help:

Start off before your trip by educating yourself on the culture you are about to engage with. While not all of the information out there is correct, and not all scenarios can be prepared for ahead of time, having a general idea of some common trends of behavior and culture will help you set realistic expectations.

During your trip abroad, maintain contact with family members and friends back in your home country. This is a vital thread of communication that can aid in reducing stress and keeping yourself grounded.

Get in touch with the local culture by visiting culturally relevant destinations and participating in events. By doing so you may feel less isolated and also more comfortable with your surroundings by knowing your way around the local area.

Share your challenges by talking with trusted friends, colleagues, and teachers. At the English Island in Atlanta, Georgia USA, our English as a second language (ESL) instructors are well-versed in the challenges faced by international, F-1 Visa students. They are always open to helping students through difficult transitions from one culture to another.

In Conclusion

The thriving student community at The English Island in Atlanta, Georgia, USA provides a positive, welcoming and supportive environment for international F-1 Visa students seeking English as a second language (ESOL) courses. While many international students face the difficulties of culture shock, the transition to living as a student in the United States also provides an opportunity for amazing new experiences, meeting different kinds of people and the opportunity to learn and grow professionally and personally. Thank you for reading about some of the challenges faced by international students and a general overview of culture shock!