Study abroad is a challenge, an introduction to a new culture, and an emotional roller coaster at times. Steffi, our Letterkenny Institute of Technology and Malaysian Ambassador shares her top tips for tackling the change…

So, what is culture shock?

The minute you land in your study abroad destination, you’re busy taking in the newness around you. You’re captivated by the sudden openness of the people around you. Or perhaps you’re noticing a discreet segregation of genders, ages, or confused by why your host mother shies away from some of your questions.

When you study abroad, your daily routine, culture, and the attitudes of people around you are no longer familiar. The process of recognising, understanding, and the process of adapting to these changes is called culture shock. There are a couple of stages…

The honeymoon stage

After first arriving to a new place, you’ll likely be caught up in all the wonderful things your new chosen home has to offer.

The negotiation stage

Gradually, the euphoria will diminish. You’ll get lost. You’ll become overwhelmed with all the things you have to adjust to and often people can feel irritated or compelled to make things go “your way”.

The adjustment stage

You’re finally able to relax. You’ve come to terms with your new home and have achieved a balance of emotions. You’ll start to have a more positive outlook, interest in learning more about Ireland.

The mastery stage

Reaching a high level of comfort in your new home is the final stage of culture shock. The order of things makes sense, you can talk to strangers with ease, and you understand cultural nuances. Your routine is more natural. Sure, you still miss your friends and family, but your new friends and activities have become part of your daily life.

My 7 top tips for dealing with culture shock

Okay, so you now understand what culture shock is and how to recognise it. Lets get down to real strategies and tips for dealing with culture shock.

  1. Learn as much about this country as possible

Read through travel forums, guidebooks, news reports, or novels. Talk to people who have been there or — better yet — are from there.

  1. Ask study abroad coordinators for advice

Basically, they are your international officers in your college. They can be your close friends in the first stage when you arrive. Anything about travelling, events in the city or academic stuffs, you can just knock the doors and ask those who know best!

  1. Set learning goals for your study abroad trip

This may be obvious, but make sure you have goals for your study abroad trip, and make sure they include doing research about Ireland. Do you love food? Make it a goal to learn how to cook a local dish.

  1. Find a healthy distraction

Especially in stage two, when you may have negative feelings towards your host culture, find a healthy distraction. Take some time to yourself, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, cook a meal from home, or have a solo dance party in your house.

  1. Push yourself to make local friends

Of course, you’ll learn even more if you make local friends. They’re experts in their own culture and will be able to explain all the crazy little questions you have. They can really be your truly good friend. Don’t worry! They are friendlier than you imagine.

  1. Get involved with the local community

Part of your feelings of culture shock may be because you feel like too much of an outsider, so get involved in your local community as much as possible. If you went to church at home, go to church there. If you volunteered at home, find a volunteer project in your host city. Join a sports team, go to major festivals, and make this new home a home!

Interested in studying abroad? Visit the Education in Ireland website for more information.