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Cultural Adjustment

One of the advantages and challenges of studying in a different country is the chance to become immersed in another culture. However, the transition to a new culture is not always easy. It is not uncommon to feel strong emotions, confusion, and discomfort as you experience living in a place where the people look, speak, act and react differently from the people at home.

The mental, emotional and physical adjustments that you will need to make in order to thrive in a new environment are not learned in just a few days. It is an ongoing process where even simple tasks like buying a meal or finding your classroom can cause unexpectedly strong emotions to surface. Yet, these feelings are a predictable part of the cultural adjustment process known as culture shock. Though culture shock is normal when moving into an unfamiliar culture, each person's reaction is different. Some will find culture shock to be a minor inconvenience while others can be greatly affected to the point where it impacts their studies, their relationships and their health.

Severe culture shock is not a sign of weakness but, without the proper assistance, international students can easily jeopardize their ability to remain in the United States because of poor grades or failed classes. To prevent this, the University has many resources to help students with cultural adjustment and culture shock. Here are a few possible options:

    • - International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) - Advisors are available to talk with students either during walk-in hours or by appointment.
    • - The Resident Assistant (RA) or Resident Director in your residence hall.
    • - The Health & Counseling Center (HCC) has trained counselors who can help. Call 303-871-2205 to speak with a counselor. Initial consultations can also be scheduled online at MyHealth.

If you are aware of a student who is having a hard time adjusting and you are concerned about them, you can contact Pioneers CARE who will reach out to the student. 

Practical Suggestions to Help You Adjust

Learning to function in a new culture takes time and effort. Here are some suggestions to help with the adjustment.

Maintain your perspective 
Try to remember that thousands of people have come to Denver from other countries and have survived (even when they arrived in the cold, short days of winter).

Take care of yourself
It is particularly important in times of stress to eat a balanced diet, get enough rest, and get regular physical exercise. Take breaks for recreation or socializing. Working constantly, without taking care of yourself, is a good way to make yourself sick, and make your entire situation worse.

Be patient with yourself and other people
Adjustment is a gradual, day-by-day process. It normally takes some time—a few weeks, a few months, and maybe longer—for people to become comfortable in a new country.

Talk with experienced international visitors from your country and other countries
Their observations and advice can help you. Ask them what things they have found most bothersome, most interesting, most perplexing. Ask them what sources of information and support have been most helpful.

Avoid making stereotypes of the culture based on a dramatic event
Newcomers to a society may have a particular, very memorable experience (good or bad) from which they generalize about the new society and the people who live in it. In fact, the experience might have been very unusual and, therefore, not a good reflection of the society in general. This suggests that if you have a dramatic experience which greatly influences your opinions or feelings about the local people, you would be well advised to discuss the experience with others and determine whether this incident was typical or unusual.

Learn the local criteria for success
Find out what is considered a good performance in studies, research, social relations, and other aspects of your life here. You can get information about this from teachers, native students, university staff, neighbors, and many other people.

Realize you may be treated as a stereotype
Foreigners anywhere can be treated (at least at first) not as individuals but as representatives of groups to which they are perceived to belong. On many occasions, international students will be responded to as "an international student" or "a student from country X". The nature of that response will depend on each native's previous experience with and ideas about "international students" or "students from country X," not on anything about you personally. Try not to let this discourage you. Avoid becoming angry with people. You may be able to start some interesting conversations about the subject of stereotypes-what people's stereotypes are, where they came from, and so on. Remember that you probably have your own stereotypes about the host nationals.

Much of this information has been taken from open sources especially from the University of Minnesota's International Scholar Handbook available on the NAFSA website.