Cultural Adjustment

Living in another country is a challenging, stimulating and sometimes difficult process. Students leave behind family, friends, and familiar surroundings, but bring with them their language, customs, and experiences. The AEI works with students to help maximize not only academic English preparation but cultural adaption and awareness. Understanding the stages of cultural adjustment and recognizing them within the context of the normal adjustment process will help keep life stresses in perspective.

Some physical and psychological symptoms of cultural stress

  • Exhaustion, fatigue or changes to your appetite
  • Major concern over small health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs, or excess eating
  • Homesickness or craving things from home - food, amenities, etc.
  • Strong desire to interact only with students on your program or non-locals
  • Fits of anger and frustration, or depression, alternating with elation
  • Superior attitude toward host nationals/native speakers. You find yourself complaining about and criticizing everything and everyone.
  • Feelings of rejection, isolation, and loneliness
  • Feeling like a child

Suggestions for dealing with cultural stress and adjustment

Internal or Self Support

  • Understand the stages of cultural adjustment and try to realize where you are at in the process. Note your reactions to various situations.
  • Identify what helps you manage stress and change, and find ways to stay positive.
  • Be patient with yourself and others. Once you are able to speak more naturally you will find living in a new place easier.
  • Remember your personal goals and why you chose to study abroad.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. The more curiosity you have and the more you explore, the more you will learn.
  • Remember your sense of humor. It will be easier for you to deal with any frustration and anxiety you experience if you can laugh at your encounters.

Physical Support

  • Deal with your stress by creating predictable routines in your day and week. Exercise regularly, eat well and regularly, and get a good night’s sleep, even on the weekends. 
  • Avoid alcohol, sugar, caffeine or any other substances that interrupt your ability to focus, sleep and stay healthy.
  • Ensure that you have a sufficient supply of all necessary medications, vitamins and other remedies that you usually have in your home.
  • Keep a few “can’t live without” items around you at all times – a toiletry you love to use, a photograph of a loved one, a favorite piece of music.

Social Support

  • Try to get involved! Find a group that shares your interests (dance, public speaking, cooking, biking, literature, religion) and see how you can participate. The more you get involved in activities and meeting people, the faster you will begin to feel at home and learn the language. 
  • Don’t forget to make plans for keeping in touch with people back home! You will need their support to get through this transition. However, it is important to set a schedule for making calls or being on social media with your native language, so that you use these things moderately. You have a new language to learn and new friends to make as well! 
  • Make it a goal to develop at least one or two strong new friendships with  a native speaker while you are here.
  • When learning to function in a new place and with a new language, don’t be afraid to ask for confirmation of what was said to you. It can be useful to repeat back or rephrase what you heard in order to double-check for understanding and accuracy.
  • Remember, things in your new host country will be different. Some things you will like and some you won’t. That’s okay. It’s an adventure!

Adjusting to U.S. Classroom Culture

In addition to the general cultural adjustment that you will face here, you will also encounter cultural adjustment in the classroom.

The following sites provide useful tips on how to succeed in the U.S. classroom. Check in with your teacher or advisor if you have any questions.  We’re here to help!