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Tips for Overcoming Culture Shock

International student looking at his laptop in shock

A student looking shocked while looking at a computer It’s natural for international students to be nervous or upset while adjusting to life in the USA.

Luckily, there’s good news about this “culture shock.” Other students just like you have successfully adjusted their new environment, and you can too! Get started by reading these easy to follow tips.


Be patient and realistic

Your adjustment will happen over time. Just as you’ll be excited and intrigued about cultural differences, there are also times where you’ll get confused or frustrated. Yes, you’ll encounter your fair share of awkward situations freshman year. And that’s okay.

Tip: Set reasonable goals that fit your personal situation, such as having one new “American” thing a week to share with loved ones back home.


Focus on the positive

Early on, many international students obsess over what’s missing, like foods and customs from back home. To avoid getting trapped in this way of thinking, focus on the good new things you have around you too. Discovering and learning new things is why you want to study abroad.

Tip: Make a list of interesting or fun discoveries and add to it throughout the year. This could be thoughts and drawings in a notebook, a blog or journal (written in English to help you practice) or even a quick list your keep on your phone.


Get to know your academic expectations

In addition to adjusting to a new country, you’re also learning how to handle different teaching and learning styles. Remember that your desire to learn new things can include how you learn them. Better understanding what’s expected will reduce your anxiety about school work.

Tip: Chat with your professors, advisor and friends about what’s expected from students at your school. This will help you navigate the unfamiliar and approach your classes appropriately.

Handle that feeling of missing out

You’ll go through a period of homesickness, or wishing you were back home. It’s important to stay connected with loved ones. At the same time, you want to embrace your new home and all the opportunities you have to make additional friends, too.

Tip: For more suggestions and ways to find help, check our blog on how to handle homesickness.


Don’t compare yourself to others

It isn’t fair to you, especially if they’re American or have spent significant time in the USA already. While other new students are adjusting to life away from home too, their home is likely closer and more similar to life at school. Every student is different and adjusts at his or her own speed.

Tip: While you don’t want to overwhelm yourself, it’s actually good to do things that make you a little nervous. You only grow when you’re outside your comfort zone.

a group of student studying outsideGet to know a variety of students

It’s common to bond with other international students due to your shared experience. But make an effort to include American students in your circle of friends, too. They can help you adjust to American culture, learn new things and have fun along the way.

Tip: Take the first step and start conversations with new people. Many American students are outgoing, but might be hesitant to talk with an international student because they’re nervous too.

Relieve stress so you can relax

Adjusting to a new culture can be stressful. Physical activity, such as jogging or walking, can help you burn nervous energy and give you an excuse to explore your new home. And remember that you can speak with a friendly helper at your Academic Accelerator Program support line too.

Tip: Explore some new hobbies and interests, especially ones that encourage socializing with other people. They’ll help you feel happy and appreciate your time in a new situation full of possibility.


See things from other perspectives

Your fellow students and even your professors might act much differently than you’d expect. Consider how their background and culture influences their behavior. Just as you want your American classmates to embrace and understand your differences, make an effort to do the same with them.

Tip: If someone does or says something that confuses or upsets you, ask what their thinking was. Or, if you prefer, wait to ask a friend later. While you won’t become best friends with everyone you meet, this can help prevent cultural misunderstandings.


Do you have a personal tip that you would like to share? Make sure to leave it in the comment section below.

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