Coming to the U.S. means stepping into a new culture. You will probably notice some obvious cultural differences from your own culture. At first they will seem exciting and interesting, but after a while all the differences will start to get to you, you will find them annoying and feel that if things could just be like they were at home it would be so much easier. Later you will start to adjust to these differences and accept them as being part of American culture and understand them. Some have called this period of adjustment "Culture Shock" or "Culture Bump" others call it the "Uprooting Syndrome." This is a normal experience, and it is often associated with both physical and emotional changes.

Culture Shock can be defined as "the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in a place different from their place of origin" or "a state of confusion and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange or foreign social and cultural environment."

What are the Physical Changes?

  • Aches and pains
  • Changes in appetite (more or less hungry)
  • Lack of concentration
  • Changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or fatigue)
  • Headaches
  • Allergies

What are the Emotional Changes?

  • Loneliness, missing family and old friends
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Homesickness, longing for the familiar
  • Tension
  • Nervousness and worry
  • Fear of failure
  • Mood swings

These changes may be uncomfortable, but time will take care of them. They may be considered "warning signs." These "warning signs" tell us to review our situation and to take appropriate action. Here are some of the things you can do to speed up your adjustment to a new culture:

  • Be aware that Culture Shock exists and that it will probably affect you in one way or another. Recognizing culture shock will help you understand your emotions and help you to manage symptoms more easily.
  • Maintain a sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself.
  • Become familiar with the Office of International Education staff and what they offer for support and resources.
  • Stay in touch with your family and friends back home regularly.
  • When you feel overwhelmed, step back from your situation. Set priorities and break down the overwhelming things into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Pay special attention to your eating and sleeping patterns. Get enough rest and try to establish a regular sleep pattern by going to bed at the same time each night. Eat on a regular basis. When you can, get together with friends and cook some familiar dishes, or go out to a favorite restaurant in the area.
  • Identify a place on campus where you feel relaxed. Spend time there. Visit this place at least three times a week for 1/2 hour each time.
  • Continue to exercise. Exercise keeps you physically strong and also improves your mental outlook. You can exercise at the fitness center on campus. Enjoy the seasons of Oregon. Spend time outdoors, breath the fresh air and walk, jog, or run for exercise. You may meet friends, who share the same interest in these activities,
  • Seek out new friends. We all need others to confide in, to feel close to, and to share experiences with. Friends are good medicine. Be active in international student activities, but take the initiative to make American friends, too.

If you have done all this and the symptoms persist, the best approach may be finding someone to talk to about how you feel. The professional staff in the Bishop Wellness Center can help you with this transition. This service is free and completely confidential. They are accustomed to helping other students with "transition shock" and can be an excellent resource.

The Bishop Wellness Center is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and on Tuesday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Call (503)370-6062 for an appointment.

Willamette University

Office of International Education

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

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