Culture Shock: 10 Signs and Solutions

You’ve been hosting an international student for some time now, and they start to exhibit strange behavior – they seem less animated, more lethargic, and generally disinterested in their daily routine. During the first few weeks in their new home, they were amazed by the new environment and foreign culture. They were appreciative of the new experiences and were ecstatic to find new and exciting opportunities.  Now, their vigor is reduced and the light in their eyes has all but diminished…

Do not fret – this is entirely normal.

What your international student may be going through is commonly referred to as culture shock. Merriam Webster defines culture shock as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.” Typically consisting of four stages, this is an inevitable part of your international student’s journey. However, it can be averted or resolved by ensuring they have an effective support system to help them through any tribulations they may be experiencing.

There are many reasons an international student may begin to feel isolated: the language barrier is preventing them from expressing how they feel, they are unaccustomed to the typical U.S lifestyle, their diet has drastically changed since leaving home, they miss their friends and family and are having trouble meeting new people, etc. These feelings begin to build up overtime and eventually become overwhelming.

Here are 10 signs of culture shock to look out for when hosting international students:

  • Change in mood and behavior
  • Depression / sadness
  • Frequent illness
  • Homesickness
  • Feeling helpless
  • Poor sleeping patterns (too much or too little)
  • Irritability
  • Trouble focusing
  • Feeling isolated
  • Declining school performance

One of the biggest mistakes many people make is ignoring the symptoms of culture shock. An international student may shrug off these symptoms as minute annoyances, but they will eventually build up and bring them to a boiling point.

Here are 10 solutions to help your international student alleviate the symptoms of culture shock:

  • Help them understand it is a perfectly natural occurrence.
  • Bring them to a restaurant that serves food native to where they are from.
  • Encourage them to join a sports club at school.
  • Have them teach you about their culture.
  • Encourage them to connect with family and friends back home via phone or internet.
  • Help them with their English proficiency.
  • Encourage them to exercise.
  • Help them become immersed in the culture by suggesting new things for them to try.
  • Promote an open environment that encourages them to come to you for help.
  • Give them space and encourage private time.

Understanding the symptoms and stages of culture shock will help international students adapt to their new life abroad. It is important to realize that culture shock will bring about an unrealistic negative perception of their new environment, as well as an unrealistic sense of positivity when thinking of home. With a reliable support system, a positive attitude, and a little time, culture shock will subside and your international student will finally be fully acclimated to their new environment.