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Culture Shock
A Wrenching Adjustment

by Andrew Purvis

Studying in a foreign country can be a wonderful, thrilling experience; but it can also be a strange and unsettling one. One of the most common problems international students face is something known as "culture shock." We're here to help you recognize it and find the resources in your area for taking care of it.

The first thing you need to do is understand what culture shock is. It's a feeling of being out of place. It's a sense that nothing around you is familiar. It's a sense of confusion or hopelessness, even of depression, that comes from being far from everything you know.

Recognizing culture shock is important. Changes in the way you sleep, eat, and behave in the months after you arrive may be clues that you are suffering from culture shock. If you start sleeping longer or feeling tired all of the time; if you start eating more or less, or even start avoiding certain foods; if you feel a need to keep cleaner than you ever did before, feel dirty simply because your surroundings are different; then you may be suffering from culture shock.

Now before we get into where to go for help, let's make a few more things clear. First of all, It's nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who moves from one place to another will suffer some level of culture shock. College students in the U.S. often go to school in states other than the ones in which they grew up, and they experience culture shock. No, it's not as strong a sense of displacement as international students will feel, but it does happen.

Of course, if you're suffering from culture shock, you need to get some help. You can deal with it on your own, but it's better to go to the experts. Your college's health and counseling centers can help you, and you should go there at the first sign of any symptoms of culture shock. The people at your college's international student organization will also be able to provide you with some additional information.

Reverse Culture Shock

Once you've adjusted to your new surroundings, you'll find it easier to get through the rest of your time in the U.S., and to enjoy it. However, you will have one more part of culture shock to face: reverse culture shock.

When you're done with your education in America, you'll probably head back home, but you'll have adjusted to life in America. It may seem strange, but you'll probably face a form of culture shock. Much of what you see around you in your home country will be unfamiliar when you return.

Keep in mind what you learned when you dealt with culture shock the first time. Use that knowledge to deal with it this time too. iStudentCity wants you to be happy and healthy. Knowing what culture shock is and how to deal with it is important. It can be difficult for a little while, but it's all part of studying in another country.

Andrew Purvis is an M.A. student in literature at Claremont Graduate University. He has spent a total of five years tutoring English and teaching public speaking. In 1994 he started teaching himself web design. Now he brings this all together as the editor for iStudentCity.

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