Culture Shock

Understanding Culture Shock

We all experience cultural shock when we move or visit another country or culture. The severity of the shock varies from minimal, as in short visits, to severe, as in a major move to a new country. It also varies for international students by their country and English language ability. Students from counties with a similar culture to the United States, such as England or Germany, may have an easier time adjusting than students from China or Nigeria. To better help international students, it is important to understand culture shock and the effect it has on them. Below is an explanation of culture shock based on P.S. Adler’s, ”Five Stages of Culture Shock.”

Expectation vs Reality

Expectation: International students enter U.S. and the university with personal experiences, cultural values and pre-conceptions of the host country. They usually have feelings of excitement, stimulation, discovery and euphoria.

Reality: After a week or two reality begins to set in and they begin to experience culture shock! Cultural differences, academic problems, economic problems and immigration regulations all contribute to culture shock.

Examples of cultural differences:

  • Loss of support system
  • Loss of identity and self-respect
  • Pressure to succeed (from family and government)
  • Lack of understanding of host country rules and regulations and customs


  • Non-fluent stages
  • Lack of understanding of the cultural meaning of language
  • Misinterpretation of verbal & non-verbal communication
  • Lack of someone to talk to with ease

Examples of academic problems:

  • Differences in tests
  • Relationship with teachers
  • Grading
  • No concept of plagiarism
  • Different ideas on what is and is not cheating (is it cheating to “help” a friend?)
  • Styles of learning are different

Examples of economic problems: 

  • Money arriving late
  • Devaluation of money
  • Political upheaval or war in home country
  • ICE regulations restricting employment opportunities

Examples of immigration problems: 

  • Must take full-course of study
  • Duration of stay
  • Employment restrictions
  • Regulations concerning spouse and children (can’t work, etc.)


These problems can lead to depression, withdrawal, avoidance, emotional/social isolation and confusion.


Feelings of anger, hate, rebellion and suspicion may arise. However, these feelings may also be an indication of rising self-esteem.


Rising self-esteem can lead to an assured, controlled, confident and independent student who exhibits trust, humor, love and is expressive and creative and independent.

As community friends you will be helping students with the cultural differences by interacting with your student, going to events with him/her talking and listening to him/her. You are helping them by just being their friend! They receive help with their academic, economic, and immigration problems from the International Students and Scholars Office and their academic advisers.

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