The Cultural Adjustment when Living Abroad
Cultural adjustment, often referred to as cultural shock, can be one of the most educational aspects of a study abroad program however; it can also be a very emotional time for the student if they are not prepared to deal with the changes. The following section will explain some of the steps that many students will experience during the adjustment period.
The first feelings your student may come to experience are categorized as the honeymoon stage. During this time, they will be exhilarated and fascinated by everything that is new around them. Everything seems great and the student is unable to see, taste and feel the new culture fast enough. This is what the new country will look like through the honeymooner's eyes, expectations are high and the outlook is always positive.
After some time, the student will then enter the second stage of cultural adaptation, which is referred to as the anxiety or hostility stage. Everything has been different now for some time and the student needs to build a new social structure to replace the one they have left behind in order to adapt to this new world. These changes can often be portrayed as frustration, anger, anxiety and even depression. The weariness has now caught up with the student and it may no longer be fun to try to keep up with the abundance of changes happening. Parents often receive a phone call or two during this time.
Once your student begins to relax in the new environment he or she will often find humor in the mistakes and misunderstandings of daily life, which is why the third stage is called the humor stage. Generally, by this time the student has made some friends that they are comfortable with, can confide in, and he or she has adjusted to the new structures of the foreign world.
The final stage your student may experience while living abroad would be considered the adjustment stage. At this time, he or she feels at home in the new country and is familiar with the way this new community functions. They will experience a form of biculturalism, which allows them to accept the differences between the two cultures. This is a difficult task to achieve and students should be commended for their efforts to grow this much.
Students will often think that when they return back home everything will snap back to normal without much effort; however in some cases this reverse culture shock is much more difficult to deal with than when they left to a new country in the first place. It is important to remember that your student has drastically changed throughout their time abroad. Now coming back to the same place and the same people does not necessarily feel the same because of the changes within themselves. They may now find faults with American ways of life or view their "normal" life as boring. All in all, your student needed time to adjust to life abroad they will now also need time to adjust back to the life at home again.
These stages will vary in strength for each person. Many students may not even realize they are going through these stages until they start to look back at the experience.