Adjusting to living in a new culture
For International Students, living in a new culture can be both exciting and frustrating, providing many opportunities and many challenges. People go through various phases of adjustment when they move from one culture to another. This guide will provide you with information and strategies to understand and manage your experience .... so that you move successfully through these phases of adjustment and have the best opportunity to achieve your goals.
- Preparing for your new experience
- Arriving in Adelaide
- What can I do to find out how my new environment works?
- The adjustment phase and culture shock
You probably have mixed feelings about your new experience. On the one hand, you may feel apprehensive leaving behind familiarity and stepping into the unknown, while on the other hand, you may feel excited starting a new part of your life. You can prepare yourself for the experience by reflecting on your decision to study overseas. You may find the following questions useful:
- Why have I decided to study overseas?
- What do I expect to gain from overseas study?
- What are my goals?
- What are some of the difficulties I might face? Keeping in mind why you are doing this overseas study is useful when you face challenges in your new environment.
The emotion associated with leaving home and the initial excitement of travelling can be exhausting. Because of your tiredness and everything being new, your initial impressions of your new surroundings may be confusing. Even if you are shown around by someone who knows the area, you are likely to forget the details. It will take some time for you to become familiar with your new environment. Do not worry, this is quite normal.
If you have arranged only short term accommodation before you arrived, you will need to look for longer-term accommodation within a few weeks of your arrival. More details are available in the information sheet called ‘Finding accommodation in Adelaide’. It is important that you arrive at the university in time for Orientation for International Students. The dates of the orientation program are included in your acceptance package from the university. This is an opportunity to meet other new and current students, become familiar with the university and be given advice on how to do certain things, like manage your budget and use public transport.
- Attend orientation for International Students, especially the 'Living in Adelaide' workshops that will be offered at this time.
- Make use of the accommodation workshops also offered at this time.
- Talk to other people about what has been successful for them. New and current students and staff will be very happy to offer advice. Most local people will be happy to help you with directions as well. Ask lots of questions!
- Explore the city. Try out the public transport. Most people will be able to help you learn how the ticketing system works. Try taking a ride on the free city loop buses identified by their yellow colour and 99B or 99C numbers. Walk around your local area and the city during the day to see where things are. Take a friend with you as together you can see and explore more!
You will find the adjustment easier if you get enough sleep and eat well in this period.
As the excitement of setting out on this new adventure wears off and you are faced with the constant challenges of daily living and studying in a new culture, you may find that you become more aware of the differences from your home country and miss the familiarity of home. The initial excitement can turn to frustration and anxiety as you struggle to adjust to your new environment. You are experiencing what is often referred to as ‘culture shock’. Culture shock does not always happen quickly or have one single cause. It usually accumulates gradually from a series of events and experiences that constantly challenge your basic values and beliefs about what is ‘right’.
Many things in your environment that you took for granted may have changed. Sights, sounds and smells are no longer familiar. The food tastes different and it can be a challenge to find food that you enjoy eating. There are cultural differences in the way people interact and spend their time. You may be uncertain about how to deal with some everyday situations because you do not understand what is expected of you. You may have difficulty understanding the language because people’s accents are unfamiliar and they speak too quickly. Study is challenging because the expectations are different and you may not feel comfortable talking with your lecturers in the way that other students do. Your family and friends are far away and it is not easy to contact them when you need to. You may not know who else you can talk to.
Coping with these changes can be exhausting. It is important to deal with both the underlying causes and the effects of this culture shock. You can address the underlying causes of the culture shock by using the following strategies.
Strategies for adjusting to your new culture
Adjusting to a new culture takes time and you will need to have patience. The following strategies can help you to adjust to the new culture and decrease the impact of culture shock.
- keep in touch with family and friends by writing email, letters or talking on the phone
- keep a diary or journal of your experiences – write down what you think and feel about what is happening to you. You can use this to demonstrate your progress and to reflect upon your experiences and learn from them
- get plenty of exercise
- look for similarities between your culture and the new culture
- do some familiar activities, especially the things you are good at
- get involved in an activity that will help you meet people and to make new friends – your student association may be able to help by giving information about the clubs, societies and other social activities available
- join the association/club of your home country e.g. the Malaysian Students Association
- keep in contact with the people you meet during orientation for International Students
- remember what you would have done at home to relax and do something similar
- use the English language as much as possible; read the local newspaper and watch television to help you develop your English language skills; the more you use the language the more you will improve
- find out what support services at the University can do for you and use them
- make sure you set small goals that you can achieve every day
- observe what others do in the same situation and reflect on why they do it that way; talk to them so you can improve your understanding
- ask questions when you are unsure what to do or what is expected of you
- try not to make judgements about others when they do things differently from what you are used to; remember they are only different, not right or wrong
Strategies to deal with the effects of culture shock
Culture shock may cause you to experience physical or emotional responses that are difficult to manage. These are warning signs and you need to pay attention to them. You may see a health practitioner or seek advice from staff within the University. The Learning and Teaching Unit provides International Student Officers, Counsellors and a range of online resources to assist you.
One of the particular effects of culture shock is homesickness. It is important to remember that most people go through a phase of feeling homesick and that these feelings will pass. Homesickness may occur soon after you arrive or it may take you by surprise later in the year. Continuing to use the strategies above will help you to become more familiar with your new environment and to develop new friends. The happier you are in your new culture the less you will think about home and the feelings of homesickness will gradually go away. It is often useful to talk about your feelings with someone. You can contact the International Student Advisers and Counsellors at Learning and Teaching Unit on each campus to assist you through this challenging time.
As time passes you will become more familiar with your new culture and find it easier to interpret the subtle cultural cues. You will feel more confident, develop new friends and manage social and professional interactions more comfortably. Your study will be more effective and you will gain a sense of really benefiting from the experience. Some students get to this phase quite quickly but for some it will take longer. Don’t worry! Use the strategies suggested and the services provided to assist you to make the necessary adjustments.