Before you travel, be sure you are prepared for changes in time and the possibility of jet lag. Travel across time-zones can alter your internal clock, but jet lag affects each person differently. You may have very little difficulty adjusting, or it may take a little while, but most travelers are completely adjusted within the first week. Follow these tips to prepare, and hopefully avoid the effects of jetlag.
Culture shock may be inevitable to some degree, but there are basic things you can do to get the most out of your time abroad.
Here are some strategies that you can use when you recognize culture shock and face the challenges of adjustment. Remember that cultural adjustment is often very personal, so your experience may vary from your friends or other study abroad students. We don’t have a complete set of answers to everything you may encounter, but these suggestions offer a starting point for cultural understanding and acceptance. Make your overseas experience as rewarding as possible.
Before you go
Talk to other who have lived or traveled overseas. Hearing firsthand accounts of time spent abroad is the best way to get a picture of what to expect. Everyone comes away with a different experience though, so talk to many people to hear a variety of experiences and views.
Learn as much as you can about the culture. If you educate yourself about the country where you will be living you will begin to understand and appreciate your new surroundings. Page through a guidebook to get yourself excited about exploring your new country. Learning about history, natural resources, social customs, religions, art and political structures. Find out the cultures set of manners, expected behavior and unspoken rules. Read about the country’s present national issues. Learning about current affairs will help you get a sense of how people evaluate from different perspectives.
Become more familiar with local language. Continue to study the language until you depart. Rent and watch foreign films to become accustomed to the rhythm and sounds of the language
Know what is happening in the U.S. You will find people around the world know far more about the U.S. and its policies than you do. Expect to be asked about your opinions and to hear others.
When you get there
Ask questions. This is the easiest way to find out more about your host culture. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to your host family or roommates. Observe your surroundings, notice how the people around you dress, eat, greet each other and carry themselves. This will help you adapt more easily.
Expect frustration at times. People will do things differently in your new home, and you will not always think their way is as good as yours. You are bound to have communications problems if you are not using your native language or dialect. Try to stay away from ethnocentric attitudes (belief that one’s own culture is superior to all others). Adopt a sense of cultural relativism and learn to accept your new culture for what it is.
Expect to miss home at times. Homesickness is natural, especially if you have never been away from home. Remember that your family and friends would not have encouraged you to go overseas if they did not want you to gain the most from this experience. Don’t let thoughts of home occupy you to the point that you are not able to enjoy the exciting new culture that surrounds you. Think of all you will share with your family and friends when you return home.
Expect to hear criticism of the U.S. If you educate yourself on American politics and foreign policies you will be more prepared to handle these discussions as they come up. Remember criticism of U.S. policies is not personal. Most foreign nationals are very interested in the U.S.
Do not expect local people to come and find you. When was the last time you approached a lonely-looking foreign student with an offer of friendship? Things are not necessarily any different where you are going. If you are not meeting people through your classes, make other efforts to meet them. Join clubs, participate in sports and attend other university functions.
Write a journal or keep a blog. One of the best ways to deal with cultural adjustments and to reflect on the differences between U.S. and the other cultures is to regularly write about your experiences. When you return home you will have more than just memories, souvenirs, and photos; you will have a written record of your changing attitudes and process of learning about the culture.
Tolerate ambiguity. You may not understand what is going on around you sometimes, especially if you are in a non-English speaking country. That’s okay. Staying open, patient, accepting, and relaxed can help you maneuver through new situations and help ensure that you have a positive experience abroad.
Talk to someone if you have a serious problem. The staff in your host institution international office or your on-site program provider are available to counsel you with problems. Share smaller problems with other international students since they are going through the same process and can provide a day-today support group.