Resources > Culture Shock / Adjustment
The Office of International Education (OIE) has included an extensive section about culture shock and how to deal with both the positive and negative aspects that culture shock entails in your Study Abroad Handbook. This handbook will be given to you at your pre-departure orientation. You can also access the handbook by clicking here. If you still need more information on culture shock, feel free to email your OIE advisor.
You can expect to deal with several waves of homesickness and culture shock while abroad. While experiencing these feelings of loneliness and disgruntlement, it is important to remember that these feelings come and go in waves. Even though at some point you may feel as though you want to go home, within a few days you will probably begin to feel more positive about your new surroundings.
To hear DU study abroad alumni talk about culture shock and how they dealt with it, watch the following short video:
The following are suggestions from articles and from study abroad alumni for coping with and minimizing feelings of homesickness and cultural shock while abroad.
Get busy! The sooner you can establish a regular routine or a full schedule of things to do, the sooner your emotions will stabilize. You could participate in an intramural sport, join a student club or society, and map out times that you will devote yourself to reading for class. It doesn’t seem to matter what you fill your schedule up with (of course, your regular activities must be constructive); what is important is that there is some kind of structure, and that you are faithful it. Free time and a lack of structure are to be avoided when experiencing culture shock or homesickness.
Remember that most homesickness is temporary. While you might miss your family and home during the duration of your study abroad experience, remember that the intense pangs of homesickness, nostalgia, or anxiety are likely to dissipate in a day or so, if not a couple of hours!
Journaling and letter writing. Journaling and letter writing have many benefits that can help alleviate anxieties. Not only will you have a record of your adventures abroad, but writing (not emailing but physically writing with pen & paper) will force you to slow down and reflect on your whirlwind experiences.
Accept challenges (and even failures!) as part of life. Completing simple tasks and errands abroad can be very challenging and time consuming either because you do not speak the language or because you’re unfamiliar with the local procedures, or both. Go easy on yourself! Reevaluate your expectations of yourself and allow more time to get things done than you do at home. Keep in mind that studying abroad is an adventure, and adventures are rarely without challenges.
Manage the amount of contact you have with people back home. Too much contact with home and too little contact with home is sure to cause some homesickness. If you are constantly in contact with friends and family from home, then you are only exacerbating the problem of homesickness and are putting a limit on the time you do have to explore your new hometown and meet locals.
Talk to someone around you. Most likely you will be in a situation with other students; take advantage of this and talk to people. Many people have experienced homesickness at one point in their lives and can easily empathize with your plight.
Expect some stress. Studying abroad proves to be very different from a relaxing vacation. Stressful situations are one of the symptoms that you are having a quality study abroad experience (otherwise, you wouldn’t really be challenging yourself!). So find out some constructive ways to decompress and give yourself time to do this regularly.
Sleep. A good night’s sleep can usually cure minor anxieties. If you are not getting enough sleep, you will be more susceptible to stress and extreme emotions.
Eat a balanced diet and drink lots of water. Being properly hydrated can help act as a mood stabilizer and a balanced diet can ensure that your anxieties are not the cause of being overly hungry.
Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to release endorphins and start to feel great. Exercising is also a great way to meet people and can give you the confidence boost you need to tackle the next challenge.
Do familiar activities while abroad. If you are an avid runner or enjoy music festivals while in the US, seek out these activities while you abroad. However, do not expect these activities to be exactly the same as they are in the states. Participating in these activities is a great way to explore the culture, meet people with similar interests, and discover the differences between American & foreign cultures.
Get out and explore your new hometown. Meet the locals, make friends, and try something daring. If you are doing something, you are not thinking about how much you miss home. Remember: it isn’t being disloyal to your loved ones back home to enjoy yourself in your new culture. If you are missing something in particular, find a way to incorporate it into your new life. Cook a meal and invite friends over to share.
Stay positive! Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it is necessary. Having a sense of humor and trying to stay positive is a great way to not only have fun but also get the most out of your experience. Don’t let little things discourage you!
There are many articles online addressing the subject of homesickness:
- How to Deal With Homesickness During Study Abroad
- How to Avoid Homesickness When Studing Abroad
- Adjustments and Culture Shock
The DU Health and Counseling Center has resources regarding homesickness as well. If you would like to speak with a counselor, you may call the Health and Counseling Center at 303-871-2205. If you have previously been working with a specific counselor, you may request to speak with him or her. If you have not previously been working with a specific counselor, the Health and Counseling Center will most likely be able to refer you to a counselor in your host city. If you are having a crisis, the Counseling Crisis phone line is always available for your use as a DU student.