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Cultural Adjustment

Living in a different country and culture can be an exciting and challenging experience. Most people living in a different culture will experience some degree of culture shock when transitioning to the new culture.  It can be very difficult for international students to adjust to their new American surroundings.

Even if you have visited, studied or lived in the United States before, you may still go through cultural challenges in Rochester. Fortunately, there are resources and tools to help you through and ultimately make your experience here in Rochester more rewarding and positive!

Cultural Adjustment Strategies & Resources
English Language Support

Patterns of Culture Shock

'Culture shock' is defined as a feeling of disorientation or confusion that often occurs when a person leaves a familiar place and moves to an unfamiliar one.  Coming to Rochester from another country, you will inevitably have to deal with new things and to adapt quickly in order to be successful. The people, language, food, weather, academics, even the smells may be different. It can be tiresome and overwhelming to absorb all these subtle and obvious changes. Your English may not be as good as you had imagined and you may be struggling to get the simplest of tasks accomplished. This process can be very frustrating and difficult because your support network of family and friends will be so far away. As a result of these changes, you may feel confused, disorientated, and unsure of yourself and even doubt your decision to come to Rochester.

Individuals will have different degrees of culture shock. Some may become nervous and unusually exhausted while others may be very tired but unable to sleep at night. Other physical symptoms can include headaches and stomach ailments. You may become overly irritated by simple complications and frustrated by minor inconveniences. Some students write many letters home and experience a great deal of homesickness. Others become very dependent upon other people from their own country. Many of these symptoms can result in complaints or hostility towards your host country.

Six Stages: Common Experiences

Generally culture shock can be broken in to six different stages. Normally after arriving in a new country everyone experiences two low stages, stages 3 and 5, before reaching a comfortable level of adjustment. Of course, individuals will experience different degrees of each step or may even skip steps or experience them in different orders. It depends greatly on the experience of the individual and their personality type.

Stage 1 
Anxiety about leaving home and what you will find in a new country.

Stage 2
“Honeymoon”: Everything is exciting and fascinating in your new surroundings. You are excited and elated with all the new and different experiences.

Stage 3
The first low symptoms of Culture Shock begin to set in. You realize that everything is so different in the new culture and it is overwhelming to cope with language, housing, shopping, transportation, and social changes. You may feel lonely, or exhausted from constantly processing and trying to understand all the new experiences.

Stage 4
Initial Adjustment Stage: You can now handle many basic interactions with no problem. It is getting easier to maneuver on campus and around Rochester. You probably feel satisfaction with your accomplishments.

Stage 5
This second low stage is generally the most severe stage of culture shock. You can typically feel a loss of self esteem when dealing with set backs such as continuing language barriers. It is not as easy as you thought to adjust to your new surroundings. You feel like a child sometimes. Your sense of loneliness and isolation intensifies as you have been away from home for some time. You don’t feel like a part of your surroundings and feel more like an outsider. People are not friendly and you do not like the new culture. You are not what you were before, and may feel angry and resentful and see everything in a negative light.

Stage 6 
Your sense of well-being and humor begins to return as you establish comfortable routines and learn to understand the customs, foods, and characteristics of the new culture. You have made some friends, and are beginning to enjoy aspects of your new life. You realize that the problems and negative aspect of the new country are not reserved for foreigners, but that even natives face many of the same problems. Your perspective becomes more balanced and well rounded as you have begun to see that there are more good things and bad things about your new life. Some things you may never like, but you accept it as part of life, the same as we accept both the positive and negative aspects of any relationship.

Adapted: Beyond Language: Cross-Cultural Communication; Levine, Deens R. and Adelman, Mara B., Prentice Hall, 1993.