Cultural Adaptation

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Photo Credit: Erica Granor '15

Many people will have some initial difficulties in adapting to a new environment, even if they have traveled to that country many times before. Cultural adjustment can subside quickly for some and last longer for others. It is helpful to understand some of the adjustment stages and recognize them as part of the normal adjustment process. It's also important to note that you can experience these in various orders and in different ways than others going through similar experiences.

  • Preliminary stage: You have yet to embark on your journey and can only prepare yourself as much as possible for what is still unknown to you.

  • Euphoria: You are curious and willing to learn and display an immediate satisfaction with your new home.

  • Irritability: During this time, you will be taking an active part in life abroad, and may encounter many differences between your home and your host culture. Some differences may be exciting while others may be frustrating. This stage can be difficult. You start to negatively judge differences and experiences and it may seem like "everything bad is happening at once." During this stage, start to ask why there are differences to understand the cultural implications behind them. If this stage lasts longer than you feel comfortable with or longer than others are experiencing, reach out to your program staff.

  • Adaptation: You feel even more comfortable with the host culture, more a part of it. You begin to be more comfortable with some of the differences of your new home.

  • Re-entry phase: Re-entry is, of course, the process of re-adaptation when you are back home and can be the hardest of all for some people. This phase can last the longest, as you learn to teach others who you were, who you are, and how this experience has made you a better person not just in your habits but in your world view.

Tips for Adapting to a New Culture

  • Don't be afraid to try new things; it shows that you're excited and willing to learn about a different culture.

  • Challenge yourself to go outside your comfort zone, but don't push it so that you feel uncomfortable and end up making unsafe decisions.

  • Make sure you have people to reach out to in your host country, not just back home.

  • Reach out for support if you need it; your program staff is a great support but Office of Study Abroad staff are also still available to speak with you while abroad as well.