Kristina Bowers, International Student Advisor, explains culture shock and how you can overcome it.
As the nights get longer and the days become grey and damp, you may find yourself wishing for the warm sun and familiar faces, missing the comforts of home a little more than you expected…
It’s likely that it’s not just the UK weather that’s getting you down, but a dose of culture shock catching up with you. You’ve probably heard this term before, but what does culture shock really mean?
What is it?
Culture shock is essentially the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar. It includes the anxiety of being away from the people most important and close to you, and the ‘shock’ of finding out that ‘your’ way of life is not universal (shared by everyone). It can make you more irritable and make it hard to focus on your studies, it may make you feel depressed and lonely, and it can even have physical manifestations, causing headaches, stomach aches, and a general sense of unwellness.
It is generally agreed that culture shock impacts on us in stages. When you first arrived, you probably found everything about your new location interesting and rather wonderful! But, unfortunately, this was just the ‘honeymoon’ stage. As you move into the next stage, you may be finding that you are rather more distressed about the differences you perceive. What was once an interesting difference is now frustrating and just feels like hard work; you’re finding that this new culture just isn’t as wonderful as you expected, and certainly isn’t as good as home!
Triggers of culture shock
There are some common triggers of culture shock that you may already have noticed, including:
Climate: The British winter can be a difficult time. With pouring rain, cold winds, and dark afternoons it’s easy to get fed up. Remember that it won’t last forever!
Food: Perhaps British food really is terrible! However, it might just not be what you are accustomed to. Perhaps it’s more bland or heavy, or you’re wishing for a nice home cooked meal with your family.
Language: You’ve gotten a place at Cardiff University, so your English must be pretty good! However, it can be tiring and overwhelming using a foreign language 24/7. You may sometimes long for the comfort of your home language.
Dress: You might find the UK style of dress unattractive, immodest, or simply odd! You may be frustrated with all the heavy layers you need to wear during the Welsh winter if you’ve moved from a warm climate.
Behaviour and values: Confused by all the ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ of British culture? You might be finding some aspects of people’s behaviour strange or insincere. In truth, it’s just different. You may also be noticing that locals’ core values are not quite like your own; our approach to education or family might be very different to that you grew up with. This can be particularly challenging as our internal values seem so universal and ‘correct’ to us!
It’s not all bad!
The key thing to remember is that culture shock is good! It shows that you are opening yourself up to new experiences and ways of thinking. It’s all part of the experience, part of learning more about the world, and of becoming a more rounded individual. Try to keep an open mind and enjoy the new information and perspectives you have immersed yourself in! In the end you will be grateful for the experience, and you’ll come to realise that things aren’t so bad – just different.
It’s also important to remember, especially during the more negative stages, that it is entirely normal. Many of your friends are probably going through the same feelings, even if they don’t always voice them. But, as normal as it is, you can help yourself ease the symptoms. Here are some things you can try…
Be aware: Just by knowing about culture shock, you are already helping yourself. You’ll know that it is not only you feeling this way, and that you will pass into more positive stages. Share the information with your friends to help them too.
Familiar things: Photos, ornaments; keep some pieces of home around you!
Home Cooking: Your mum might not be here to help, but try to cook some of your favourite meals from home. You could even share this delicious part of your culture with your new friends in Cardiff.
You can find information on where to buy international foods on our web page.
Exercise: It can lift your mood and help you meet new people! If nothing else, at least you’ll get fit!
Contact: Stay in touch with family and friends, but try not to call home every day. Reach out to new friends in Cardiff. Other international students will best understand the experience you are going through, while home students may help you to better experience the UK.
Reach for help: Take advantage of all help offered. We at International Student Support are always here if things start to get too much.
Glossary of phrasal verbs:
- To get someone down: make someone feel unhappy.
- To catch up with: reach someone or something that was ahead of you. In a different context, this can also mean to get up to date on something, e.g. I was away on Monday so I had to catch up on my emails.
- To be fed up: to be unhappy, bored.
Contacting International Student Support
Kristina Bowers, International Student Advisor.
Your Student Life, Supported.
The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice and Money, Careers and Employability, Counselling, Health and Wellbeing, Disability and Dyslexia and International Student Support.
For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.