You made it! After much preparation you are abroad. This page is designed to help you through the different stages of studying and living abroad. 

The Many Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Many returning students describe study abroad as an emotional rollercoaster.

Knowing the stages of Culture Shock will help you at least understand why your emotions and actions are all over the place. These stages generally are sequential, but the amount of time each person spends at each stage can vary significantly.

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Stage

Everything you see is interesting and exciting. Sure, you are having trouble navigating the transportation system, but you are generally happy and enjoying your new adventure.

  • Be careful, these early impressions of the host culture could be unrealistic or inaccurate.
  • Start writing in a journal or blog and continue through your time abroad. Later on you will love looking back at your initial days and weeks abroad.

Stage 2: The “Everything is Difficult” Stage

Going to the post office, the bank, the grocery store, everything seems hard! People stand to close to you in line, no one is ever on time, you are sick of taking the bus an hour to class. Daily life is a challenge because everything is new and your cultural comforts may be clashing with your host culture's. As a result of these frustrations and challenges you may feel homesick, angry, bored, or depressed.

  • Don't take your frustrations out on the host culture. Try to understand why some of the culture's characteristics are affecting you.
  • Continue to discover your host site.
  • Meet local people! It is hard but very fruitful. Be confident.
  • Get back to your goals; are there new ways you can work on accomplishing them?
  • Exercise, eat well and get out and about.
  • Ask your program directors or email the OIE for more suggestions or counseling.
  • If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms contact your program administrators or the OIE because you might be experiencing too much shock: substantial weight gain/loss, loss of appetite, insomnia, sleeping or wanting to sleep too much, feeling depressed for two or more weeks, lack of desire for basic hygiene.

Stage 3: The “Hey! I am Figuring this Out” Stage

Cultural adjustment is fun! You are learning and using local slang in everyday conversation, you are making friends with the host-country nationals and last week you made a joke that they understood! At this stage you are becoming more confident in the culture and you are excited to learn more.

  • Keep up the momentum!
  • Explore new avenues of culture, go to plays, local movies, a concert, a dance and museums.
  • Revisit your initial impressions of your host culture; were you wrong about certain traits? What qualities have you grown to love? What aspects of the culture still bother you? why?

Stage 4: The “It Feels Like Home” Stage

You are finally feeling adapted. Your accent is sounding less and less foreign everyday, you are craving the local food and you hardly ever trip getting on the bus anymore.

  • There is still a lot to learn about the culture, so although you are feeling comfortable, continue to ask questions.
  • Get ready to leave. You are going to go through culture shock again when you return home, so be prepared. Start here.
  • Make a list of all of the qualities or characteristics of your host culture that you hope to take home with you.
  • A few important details need to be accomplished before you come back to Willamette. Don't forget to register for classes - here's the link to the Office of the Registrar. Don't forget to make housing arrangements if you want to live on campus when you return - click on the "Students Studying Abroad" option on the Housing page. And don't forget to be sure you've got everything squared away with Financial Aid.

Study Abroad Handbook

The Study Abroad Handbook distributed by the Office of International Education to each student before his/her General Pre-departure meeting. The handbook contains a lot of useful information - this book is a must-read! The handbook starts with organizational tools, includes tips on how to prepare and ends with advise on how to have a successful return to Willamette.

Find the Study Abroad Handbook for the appropriate semester and year on the Accepted to Study Abroad page.
Willamette University

Office of International Education

Global Learning Center
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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