Santa Clara University

Study Abroad

Culture Shock

When you leave home to head to a foreign country, you are essentially starting an entirely new life for yourself. This is obviously going to take a while to adjust to, as trying to adapt to a new environment will most likely take you some time.

Consider all of the things that you have come to take for granted here at Santa Clara. You know how to get from one place to another. You know where and how to do your laundry. You know where the cafeteria is to get food from, and you also know where a grocery store is, and how much a particular item of food is going to cost. You can speak the language fluently,and can understand the meanings that lie behind "slang" and jokes.

When you place yourself in a foreign environment, you throw all of these privileges out the window. You're going to have to relearn all of these seemingly mindless tasks that you had grown so comfortable doing and using. People are going to speak and act very differently than what you expect from your fellow Americans.

These sudden changes in environment can and most likely will bring about the dreaded phenomena of "culture adaptation." Not everyone experiences culture adaptation, especially those who have lived/studied abroad in the past. But culture adaptation can affect your life in a variety of ways: headaches, upset stomach, irritability, homesickness, and so on. If you experience any or all of these, don't worry - they are all completely normal reactions. Yes, they can be disorienting, but yes, they will go away with time.

Culture adaptation manifests itself in a series of stages. Will everyone go through all of these stages? Definitely not. Will everyone feel these stages at the same intensity? Again, no. We provide them here simply as possible answers for puzzling feelings and emotions that you may experience while overseas.

  • INITIAL EUPHORIA: Hardly recovered from jet lag and travel fatigue, you will soon be busy with registration, interviews, orientation, tours, parties, and getting acquainted with your hosts and peers. Everything is new and exciting - possibly "quaint"- and students purposely set off to accomplish their goals. Reality, essentially, has not yet set in.
  • IRRITABILITY / HOSTILITY: As the differences become apparent and perhaps some difficulties are encountered, discomfort sets in and you may find yourself becoming irritable (“Haven’t they ever heard of air conditioning?! Why is there NO ICE in my soda! Where can I do laundry?!”) about certain aspects of your new country.
  • GRADUAL ADJUSTMENT: As you begin to better understand lectures and textbooks, pass one or two quizzes, and start to correctly interpret some of the cultural cues that have been so confusing, there is a gradual - sometimes hardly perceptible - adjustment taking place. Gradually, things will seem less forbidding and more comfortable, and your sense of humor will begin to work again in your new environment.
  • ADAPTATION: You have adapted when you can fully function in two cultures, the new one and your old one. You will be able to handle with understanding any differences encountered, you'll be at ease with your college and peers, and find you can communicate more readily. In fact, you may find a great deal to enjoy, and relations with hosts and professors can deepen and mature. Did you know that culture adaptation also exists when returning home? Some students feel that reverse culture adaptation can actually be harder than going overseas. To learn more about the end of the cycle, please
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