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Adjusting to living in a new culture

For International Students, living in a new culture can be both exciting and challenging. 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

You probably have mixed feelings about your new experience. You may feel apprehensive leaving behind familiarity and stepping into the unknown. You may also 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:

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Arriving in Adelaide

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.

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What can I do to find out how my new environment works?

You will find the adjustment easier if you get enough sleep and eat well in this period.

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The adjustment phase and culture shock

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.

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.

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Conclusion

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.

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