Homesickness and Culture Shock

Many students experience homesickness and culture shock...

Traveling far from home and living in a new place is very exciting, but can also be difficult, and it takes a while to settle down and get used to this new life. Homesickness and “culture shock” seem to be only a normal part of this process of adjustment and growth. During International Orientation we will spend a good bit of time talking to the students about the transition to their new school and town, and we will introduce them to the resources available to them.

Culture Shock is a phenomenon that occurs when people spend a significant amount of time outside of their home culture. It has been described as an emotional curve whereby the intial reaction to landing in a new and foreign place is to be very excited and awed by all that is new and different experiencing an emotional high. Once this initial period of excitement is over, it is not uncommon to experience frustration over these very differences and to consequently feel isolated and possibly lonely and/or depressed while one struggles to understand a new culture and come to terms with being so far away from home. These are the low times in which students may need extra support from their program providers and friends and family overseas. In time, however, the traveler comes to understand differences at a newer and deeper level, to form important, new relationships, and to generally feel more at ease with their new surroundings, eventually becoming a bi-cultural person (which is our goal, after all), able to live in both worlds. Various stages of culture shock can resurface depending on circumstances, at any given time.

Depending on a student's personal background, past travel experiences, with whom they are traveling, where they are traveling to, and their overall personality, it is likely that they will experience culture shock to some degree, though this is no cause for alarm but simply a natural part of the student's growth process.

In addition, students often experience "reverse culture shock" upon re-entry into their home country they begin to see their home country from a new perspective. Students may again feel lonely and isolated as they try to internalize this new perspective and find it difficult to communicate with others what their life-changing experiences have been overseas. Again, friends and family are very important at this stage, as they can provide an attentive ear to help the student process their new outlook.