Culture shock is what happens when our culture is challenged by another's way of thinking or doing something. It is part of the process of cultural adaption. Culture shock naturally affects the exchange student who is leaving a familiar environment to go to live in a new country.
Culture shock is often described as a U shaped curve and consists of several different stages. The first stage is called the honeymoon period. This is the time when the exchange student still finds everything to be new and exciting.
As time passes the novelty of the experience begins to wear off, and many cultural differences start to show. These differences often appear when they are least expected. This is the frustration stage.
From frustration, students gradually move to the next stage, doldrums, in which they start to evaluate the other culture. After examining the other culture the student decides what to change, what to keep and what to throw out altogether. It takes time to get through the frustrations and doldrums, but the rewards are great.
The final stage is the process of adaption. It is important to note that cultural adaption does not follow any clear timeline. The different stages may last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The stages may overlap or repeat themselves. The process of learning and adapting to a new culture continues from the day that the student arrives until the program ends.
Communication is Key...
Communication is the key when dealing with exchange students. It can therefore be very helpful to sit down with the student and ask them what is wrong when you find them isolating themselves or struggling with house rules or cultural norms. You might be surprised to find out that your exchange student has to say!
If you have concerns about your student’s adjustment to life in the U.S. and you would like support, please contact your Local Coordinator or the CIEE Support Department in Portland, Maine at 1-800-448-9944.