Foreign Exchange Friday: Culture Shock

Anxiety

Anxiety (Photo credit: Rima Xaros)

According to TeensHealth, culture shock is “a common way to describe the confusing and nervous feelings a person may have after leaving a familiar culture to live in a new and different culture.”  This is extremely common, not just for exchange students, but anyone moving to a new country or even a new part of the country.

Culture shock may not set in immediately.  At first, feelings of excitement will probably be the most evident, but after being immersed in the new culture for some time, some common symptoms may arise, such as:

  • sadness
  • loneliness
  • anxiety
  • feeling left out
  • frustration
  • overwhelming negative feelings
  • extreme homesickness

It may be a natural reaction to want to withdraw and be alone or isolate yourself, but you should do the opposite.  Don’t dwell on it and talk to someone you trust if your feelings don’t change or sort themselves out.

Do your best to become comfortable with the language.  Some frustration could be coming from an inability to understand what’s being said.  Practice and immerse yourself in it as much as possible.  Resisting and speaking only in your own language will continue the isolation . Make yourself familiar with the culture you’ll be visiting.  It may not be as overwhelmingly different if you have an idea of what to expect.

Ask for help.  EF Foundation provides a great support unit for students, including host families, International Exchange Coordinators, Regional Coordinators and Program Support Managers.  Your school will also have counselors you can speak with.  You can also just talk to friends.  Friends who are part of your new culture can help you better understand it.  Meanwhile, you can educate people about your own culture.  That’s the best part of the cultural exchange experience!

Remember that your exchange year is a time to learn and grow and it may not always be easy.  Things aren’t good or bad – just different and your experience will depend on how you deal with these differences.

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