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Tips for cultural adjustment while abroad in a Foreign Culture

One of the good skills that I might have naturally or I might have learned through the years, is being able to analyze my feelings and thoughts. And know exactly what I am going through and what are the possible things that cause me to feel, act or see things in a certain way. I often find myself right about what my instincts tells me when I do my researches on certain subjects, trying to understand more about the nature of humans. I came across this very helpful information which I am sharing here, hoping it would help others who are going through similar experiences that I had having culture adjustment lifestyle in foreign countries, whether they are international students / expats / immigrants / moved with a spouse like in my case ... etc..

Cultural adjustment is a process an individual has to go through to be able to work effectively and live comfortably in a place that is new and unfamiliar to them. Living in a new culture requires you to learn a new set of cultural patterns and behaviors. There are four common stages one's goes through while trying to adjust in a new culture:  

FOUR COMMON STAGES OF CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT

The honeymoon -- Initial euphoria and excitement
In this stage, you will feel able to handle anything; your experience may be characterized by:
  • Excitement about new sights and surroundings.
  • Superficial, tourist-like involvement in the host culture.
  • Intrigue with both similarities and differences between the new culture and your home culture.
  • Lots of interest in learning, very motivated and open-minded.
Culture shock -- Irritation and hostility
The novelty of the new culture has worn off. Your feelings in this stage may include:
  • A focus on the differences between your new culture and your home culture. Stereotypes and prejudices surface.
  • Small issues feel like major catastrophes; you become overly stressed out by small problems and feel helpless and frustrated.
  • Homesickness and missing your family and friends from home.
Gradual adjustment -- Finding humor and perspective
In this stage, you decide to make the most of your experience. You may also have the following reactions:
  • Increased familiarity with the new culture, its logic and values.
  • Periodic highs and lows as adjustment gradually takes place.
  • The return of your sense of humor and recognition that you like some parts of the new culture better than that of the U.S.
  • Deeper learning about life abroad and a questioning of your earlier assumptions about the world.
"Feeling at Home"-- Adaptation and biculturalism
You now appreciate certain aspects of foreign culture and critique others. Other reactions at this stage include:
  • Feeling at home in the "foreign" country.
  • No longer negatively affected by differences between the host and home cultures.
  • Living and working to your full potential.


PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS OF CULTURAL STRESS

  • Exhaustion, fatigue or changes to your appetite. 
  • Major concern over small health problems.
  • Avoiding social situations.
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Craving things from home (food, amenities, etc.) and homesickness.
  • Strong desire to interact only with international students / expats or non-locals.
  • Fits of anger and frustration or depression alternating with elation.
  • Superior attitude toward host nationals. You find yourself complaining about and criticizing everything.
  • Feelings of rejection, isolation, and loneliness.
  • Feeling like a child.

STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH CULTURAL STRESS

Most people who live in a foreign country for an extended period of time experience cultural stress. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. This is all part of the cultural learning process! Make plans for keeping in touch:

While abroad, you’ll want to be in touch with the people back home to share your experiences. However, study abroad is also a time for personal and cultural exploration. Past students have suggested arranging a schedule with family and friends to determine when they will be in touch and to manage expectations for how frequently you’ll be contacting them.

Use the following stress buffers:
  • Internal supports 
  • Understand the stages of cultural adjustment 
  • Analyze your situations and reactions 
  • Identify what helps you manage stress 
  • Identify new ways of thinking positively 

Social support 
  • Identify your various sources of support (program staff, other participants, friends and family at home) and the type of support that each can best offer
  • Make plans for keeping in touch with people back home 
  • Seek out friends and groups who share your interests and encourage you to participate in social circles 
Physical support 
  • Eat healthily and get plenty of rest
  • Identify any weaknesses (e.g. alcohol abuse, binge eating) and make plans to manage them
  • Bring a sufficient supply of necessary medications
  • Take any "can't live without" toiletries with you
Strategies to help you cope with the adjustment process

Culture is relative 
Culture is relative, which explains why individuals from different cultures may perceive American norms differently. For some, the American communication style may seem too direct, while others may find it not direct enough. As an international student, you will be exposed to many new customs, habits and ideas. Try to avoid labeling them as "good" or "bad" according to the culture you are from. Remember that there may be parts of a culture you dislike or disapprove of, but these are part of a broader social system, and therefore make more sense inside that system.

Be open-minded and curious 
Adjusting to a new culture does not mean that you have to change your own values, but it is important to respect those of other people. When you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, try to think of it as a new adventure. Allow yourself to be curious about the way things are perceived and done in this new environment.

Use your observation skills 
Since you will encounter unfamiliar rules and norms, observing how others are acting in situations can help you understand what behavior is expected of you. Pay attention to both the verbal and nonverbal communication of others in order to get a more complete picture of what is going on.

Ask questions 
Ask for help when you need it. Asking for assistance or an explanation does not have to be considered a sign of weakness. Understanding others and making yourself understood in a new language (or context) requires lots of rephrasing, repeating and clarification. It may be helpful to ask questions like "as I understand it you are saying... Is that correct?"

It's ok to experience anxiety
Learning to function in a new environment is not easy. It is natural to feel anxious or frustrated sometimes. The key is to remind yourself that these feelings are normal and are likely to be situational and temporary.

Give yourself (and others) permission to make mistakes
You will inevitably make mistakes as you explore a new culture. If you can find the humor in these situations and laugh at them, others will likely respond to you with friendliness and support. Keep in mind that others will probably make mistakes, too; when someone makes an inaccurate assumption or a generalized statement about your culture, it may be due to a lack of information. If you're comfortable with doing so, this can be an opportunity to share information with others about yourself and your culture.

Take care of your physical health
Be mindful about keeping a healthy diet and getting enough exercise and rest. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and make it part of your routine. Being physically active can help reduce your stress level.

Find a cultural ally 
A friend from your culture (or another international student who has been in your country for several years) can be a great consultant on cultural expectations. When you have questions or need a second opinion on something, this person can help clarify confusions and provide support as you adjust to your new environment.

Seek out support from other international students 
Many international students find it helpful to discuss their concerns with others who are going through similar transitions. Talking with others about their adjustment to the new culture can provide ideas and insights about your own experience. *

Be patient - don't try to understand everything immediately 
The process of adjusting to a new culture requires time. It may also require a different amount of time for different areas of adjustment. Try to encourage yourself to be patient with this experience and not be overly critical of yourself.

Adapting to a new culture is an ongoing process. It may be challenging at times, but most people who experience culture shock agree that going through this transition helped them to learn more about themselves and to develop greater confidence in their ability to navigate new situations. It can also lead to a renewed appreciation of one's own culture. 

Source: northwestern university about students in foreign cultures , cmhc

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