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ADJUSTMENTS & CULTURE SHOCK

You are not alone! Most students that go abroad will experience
some form of culture shock, homesickness and stress. In this
section, you will learn how to identify and cope with some common
symptoms of culture shock. In this section, you will learn what culture
shock means and how you can overcome its effects. Experiencing
new cultures, and obtaining a better understanding of your own
culture, can result in some of the most positive, life-altering
experiences students have while studying abroad. When going
abroad, students will experience differences in manners, beliefs,
customs, laws, language, art, religion, values, concept of self, family
organization, social organization, government, behavior, etc. All of
these elements combine to form your host country’s rich and unique
culture. While the introduction to new and foreign cultures greatly
benefits students, it can also be overwhelming. The new cultural
elements a student encounters abroad may be so different that they
seem "shocking" in comparison to cultural norms they are used to at
home.

"Just as you can't really describe the taste of a hot fudge sundae to
someone who has never experienced one, it is difficult to actually
convey just how disorienting entering another culture can be to a
student without any cross-cultural experience."

Riding the roller coaster of culture shock, a student actually follows a
natural pattern of hitting peaks and valleys. The high points of
excitement and interest are succeeded by lower points of
depression, disorientation, or frustration. Each student will
experience these ups and downs in different degrees of intensity
and for different lengths of time. The process is necessary in order
to make the transition from one culture to another; it helps a student
or traveler to balance out and adjust.

EXPOSURE TO A NEW CULTURE

Prior to going abroad, students may be excited about new
adventures to come. A student arrives in the host country and
perhaps begins to develop increasing independence as he/she
starts to experience the local culture or another country's culture. At
first, a student's expectations may be too high. He or she may see
things almost as a tourist would during the first few weeks in a new
country.A student may be heavily comparing and contrasting his/her
home culture with the culture abroad. It is common for students to
focus on what they see as weaknesses in foreign cultures. Students
tend to point out what a foreign culture lacks; this often leads to
feelings of frustration over what is "missing" or what can't be
obtained abroad in the same ways it can be at home. Students may
be challenged on a regular basis by different ways of living abroad
(banking, eating, relationships, etc.). Negative feelings and
frustrations may reach a level where you begin to recognize you are
going through "culture shock".

ACCEPTANCE OF A NEW CULTURE

As a student gets used to the host country’s ways, things that
seemed like a "crisis" may now simply be seen as different ways of
doing things. Most students gradually adjust their lifestyles to be
balanced with a country's own cultural norms. The cultural traits that
once annoyed or bothered a student generally come to be accepted
as normal. Students usually begin to understand and appreciate the
cultural differences between the Europe and the host country.
However, if significant problems arise, a student may briefly return
to the "frustration" stage of culture shock. As a student begins to
adapt more and more, he/she may have a new set of friends, may
be traveling more, and may even be dreaming in another language.
The "other way" may now become the "normal" way of living.

LEAVING A NEW CULTURE BEHIND

As a student becomes integrated to the ways of the host country’s
culture, the more difficult it may be to re-adapt to the Europe upon
return home. The RCHE just won't look the same way it did before
leaving to study abroad; a student may see home with new eyes
and may also be more critical of European cultural traditions once
thought to be "normal". This is called reverse culture shock. Fear of
experiencing reverse culture shock should not deter students from
trying to integrate as fully as possible while abroad. No matter how
integrated a student becomes while abroad, he or she will probably
still be "shocked" by differences noted at home after so much time
spent abroad and the other countries to which you will be traveling.
However, over time, a student will learn to re-adapt and reintegrate
into his or her home culture.

HOMESICKNESS

Homesickness is one of the most common adjustment problems
related to culture shock and loneliness. Experienced by students
from every country, homesickness is a universal side-affect to being
away from home. Psychologists often refer to homesickness as
“separation anxiety” because students—in particular those moving
away from home—feel separated from all that is familiar.
Feelings of homesickness may even start before you leave to study
abroad in and you may find yourself mildly depressed or anxious
several weeks before leaving. The anticipation and preparation for
this major change of lifestyle can trigger pre-departure
homesickness, or sudden feelings that you don’t want to leave, or
even a want to back out of your decision to study abroad. Some
students might experience homesickness within the first few days or
weeks of being abroad, while others might not be hit by
homesickness until later on, or closer to the holidays. Holidays,
birthdays, anniversaries, family events or even family illness or
death can all cause you to feel homesick, or make you wish you
were at home. Also, many students report increased feelings of
homesickness during the winter months when darkness, rainy
weather and the cold can lead to feelings of depression.
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