It’s just me & my-culture-shocked-self
Let me just start by saying that the inevitable Culture Shock is much more than just feeling emotionally overwhelmed. In fact, it is like electrifying your five senses with unique charges that your entire body needs to adapt to in order to create new, positive experiences. It involves different stages of varying lengths for every individual and each which involves challenges that are not necessarily negative but are a form of indirect education of acceptance of others and oneself, becoming more open-minded and less judgmental and respecting values and cultures. It may not be an easy transition; it can involve tears, frustration, doubting your decisions or maybe changing them entirely. It is as if you are on a steep roller coaster of emotions, and it feels even more difficult that your studies and personal life need to be somehow balanced alongside your transition.
As a matter of fact, a study conducted by Zeller and Mosier (1993) proved that first year college students undergo a W-curve, as shown in the above figure. This is a typical, normal pattern where new students adapt to a new culture and living style, and where each phase is important to enable us to mentally transition into the next stages of our university lives. It is a long-term experience that even lasts after you graduate and return back home to your family and have to adjust to your former living style, while also implementing the things you have learned and accepting reality. We all face it differently, Home, EU and International students, and no one is exempt from feeling even the slightest bits of homesickness as we are all humans and it is only natural to feel that way. I, personally, wished I knew about this in my first year as it would have reassured me from an early stage that it is only a temporary feeling and life is and will still be good and fruitful.
1. The Honeymoon Stage
Expectations, comparisons, expectations, comfort zone, expectations… are your recipes to varying degrees of culture shock. The Honeymoon stage begins as soon as a student has selected and been accepted into a university, have arranged their accommodation and are excitedly anticipating to begin their course. It is all about the high expectations you set by reading positive recommendations and the ideal social living style that shows and movies have portrayed to their audience. This feeling is still attached to you when you are welcomed into the campus community, find new friends and get busy for the first two freshers weeks when all the fun events and gatherings take place. All of this is generated when the sense of freedom kicks in after moving away from parental oversight, being fully responsible for your own living styles and having your own rules!
2. Culture Shock
A few weeks into your university life the socialising game reduces and reality starts to kick in. You start acknowledging your state and begin doubting yourself and all your choices. You begin to notice how your flatmates behave, speak, act, solve or cook in different ways and things do not make sense to you. You are confused, not sure if you want to continue or, personally, watch your school friends back home having much more fun and are going to the same university together. They are problem-free and are living happily near each other, but there you are. It is hard to make friends, your lectures include unfamiliar material and you feel lost. You begin to think that things have turned out differently and you consider them as tiring problems rather than just new experiences. You are overwhelmed, want to go back home and start feeling homesick. Just remember, it is okay not to be okay and you just have to reach out to the right support. You are not the only one going through this. In fact, I have gone through this myself and, hey, I am still alive, sound and happy! I do not regret any experience that I have been in as it made me the careful and mature person I am today.
3. Initial Adjustment
The next stage consists a state of realisation and confidence in your own abilities to solve arising issues. You begin understanding yourself and start working out what is best for you. You have independently managed to handle the culture shock stage and have worked out a routine to suite the academic and social environment of college. Your state of well-being is back in the line and begin to notice that you are in control of your feelings as normal. Problems can still arise, but you are now feeling more aware and can reduce your anxiety and stress levels by anticipating your next few steps to resolve them.
4. Mental Isolation
According to Zeller and Mosier, “Although the physical environment has become more familiar, new students will relapse into a sense of isolation as they make comparisons between their new culture and their more familiar home culture.” This is the second cultural shock trough in the W-curve, and it occurs when students return back home for extended breaks between semesters or even after they graduate and have to completely adapt to their old living style. Your sense of belonging is confused as you feel you do not particularly belong to either your home or new college environment. This is because while you were gone from home changes have happened and you have not been part of them. You feel left out and upset as the home environment you have always longed for does not seem to exist anymore. The spark and the magic of first entering university and having super friendly and helpful professors and numerous potential friends in campus seems to wear off gradually. Your comfort zone doubts your academic and cultural adaptability capabilities and can alter your university preference to a safer, more secure home culture environment. You must resolve this cultural shock by becoming more involved with different university opportunities to keep yourself busy from negative thoughts and meet your desire to stay connected to your home friends. This will require an integration of beliefs from both the home culture and university environment.
5. Acceptance & Integration
Acceptance needs time, and patience requires effort. In fact, it is our flexibility and adaptability that were being challenged throughout the entire journey; forcing yourself to adapt and ignoring your emotions will simply never work. You need to be honest and slow with yourself. In my first and second years, I have always thought that having a positive experience is forced and that I should adapt to my surroundings or else failure will hunt me forever. Yes, you can call it fear of failure. At least now I can admit where I was wrong that it took me time to learn about myself, thanks to this ride. I did not know that I was hurting myself in the process through stress and anxiety. It took any joy that I was meant to be having and turned it into fear for the future. I just learned to accept the way experiences are and found my own unique alternatives to having a balanced life wherever I am in this world. It is only natural to face difficulty, but we should do it with grace and love for ourselves. We need to shake the hands of the new, come to peace with it, train ourselves and welcome it as a norm.
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