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Adjusting to Life in the United States - Dealing with Culture Shock
While you'll have many fantastic experiences while studying abroad, there's one unavoidable experience that might not always be quite so pleasant - culture shock.

No matter how well prepared you are for your move to the U.S., some degree of culture shock is inevitable - but there are ways to manage it so it does not overwhelm you or last too long.

What is Culture Shock?
In order to adjust to a new culture and way of life, an individual must pass through a process known as "cultural adjustment". This process can be very challenging and sometimes uncomfortable.

There are generally three main stages of cultural adjustment:

  • CULTURE SURPRISE usually occurs during the first few days of your visit as you initially become aware of superficial differences. Examples: people dress differently, signs are in a different language, nonverbal behaviors are different.
  • CULTURE STRESS is a fairly short-term response to "stimulus overload." This occurs when you begin to respond to the behavior of the "new" culture. Examples: trying to drive a car, doing your own shopping, hearing comments about yourself.
  • CULTURE SHOCK is a normal, healthy psychological reaction to the stress of living in a different culture. You experience feelings of tension and anxiety because you have lost familiar cultural cues. Your actions do not always get you what you want. And your inability to communicate effectively with others is frustrating. *Janet and Milton Bennett, 1999

Culture Shock is different for each person. You might have some of these common symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • crying a lot or mood swings - like feeling happy and then feeling sad
  • irritability or getting frustrated easily
  • hopelessness and feeling overwhelmed
  • feeling homesick and missing familiar food, your friends and your language
  • changing appetite - you might eat a lot or not at all
  • changing sleep patterns - you might sleep a lot or not at all
  • having a hard time focusing and studying

We are here to help you!
Not everyone experiences culture shock in the same way. You may have a lot of these symptoms, or just a few. You may want to sleep all the time and stop eating, while your friend stays up late and is always eating. The important thing to remember is that culture shock is normal, to be expected, and can be managed.

Don't go through it alone - let someone know how you're feeling, such as a friend, or stop into the International Education & Programs offices - we love to chat!

Also, make the most of the resources available through the Potsdam International Organization (PIO). This organization is specifically set up to support and meet the needs of international students. They know how you're feeling! They all went through it and can offer you help and support as you adjust to your exciting new life.

We have a few ideas to help you adjust to your new home at SUNY Potsdam:

  • Remind yourself - What you are feeling is normal and temporary.
  • Keep in touch with people and things from home - Sometimes reading a home newspaper, or calling and skyping family will make you feel better.
  • Take care of yourself - Exercise, eat healthy food and make sure you rest.
  • Have fun - Join the Potsdam International Organization (PIO) or other student groups on campus, attend events like concerts, plays and sporting events.
  • Talk to someone - We want to remind that we are here for you!