- “What are the key signs of culture shock?”:
Culture shock may happen very gradually, and can occur when a student is encountering some difficulties or simple differences in their daily routine. Culture shock occurs when a student is in an unfamiliar environment, and things may start to irritate them.
For example, communication issues, differing attitudes and customs or unusual foods. In a worst case scenario, culture shock can evolve into anxiety or depression, therefore, it is important to know the key signs:
a. Extreme homesickness, and struggling to connect with people
b. Feeling lonely and isolated from friends and peers
c. Difficulty in sleeping and eating d. “I hate this place” - critical of the country and culture e. Irritates easily and can display strong emotions (upset or anger)
f. Lack of interest in exploring new surroundings
- 2.“Where can I get further information on culture shock?”:
Culture shock is very common, and it is important to reassure the student that this is very normal, especially as they may be experiencing a lot of cultural and emotional differences in the first few weeks of their mobility experience.
The important thing to point out is that they are not alone, and the best advice is to encourage students to recognise the signs and to seek guidance. For more information on culture shock, encourage the student to engage with the DIGIPASS Student Training programme, and complete the “Culture Shock” capsule.
This will provide information on culture shock, why students experience it, how to deal with it and what can help to overcome culture shock.
- “How do I support a student who is struggling with homesickness?”:
It is normal for students who are abroad to feel homesick, especially when cultural differences and language barriers become more apparent.
It is always good to encourage the student to stay positive and offer helpful tips including speaking to a trusted friend or family member, participate in events for international students, and trying to really assimilate into the local culture.
You can also suggest students spend less time scrolling their social media feeds, in order to prevent “fear of missing out” on activities back home.
- 4. “How do I support my students to embrace cultural change?”:
It is important for students to understand that things will be different from “home”, therefore, it is extremely beneficial for students to prepare for the various emotions and feelings that they are likely to encounter in the early stages of mobility, as this will reduce the impact of culture shock.
4 The ability to engage with their new surroundings is really important, and students should be encouraged to think about their host culture and what aspects appeal to them the most before they are immersed in it.
For example, research the cultural norms or your host country and to engage with international students prior to departure, this will support the students understanding and enable them to ask questions in a peer to peer setting.
- “What are helpful tips/advice to be able to immerse yourself in the host country culture”:
Encourage your students to make and research a list of specific things they want to try (such as different types of cuisine or sports) or particular places they wish to visit (such as a local market or a famous park) during their mobility experience. They should ask questions such as:
a. How to get there - public transport or bicycle?
b. What to expect - is there an entry fee or specific opening times?
c. What do people say about it - is it worth its reputation? Does a particular cafe have a good atmosphere or is the amenity’s surrounding neighbourhood friendly? Building a sense of familiarity with an initial set of cultural ‘touchpoints’ will give students a starting point for their explorations. Taking away as much of the unknown as possible in advance will leave them with a comfortable way to begin interacting with their new culture.
- 6.“How can students learn about cultural etiquette in their host country?”:
Prior to departure, encourage students to interact with peers from their host culture or country at home, particularly students who are studying at their home university, who are from the same mobility destination. University societies are a great way of engaging with new cultures, and are usually centred around language or cultural groups.
For example, the French Society offers a wealth of cultural knowledge and experience, and many members will have direct experience of the kinds of etiquette your student will encounter.
- “How can I encourage students to reflect on their own culture, biases and perspectives, in order to develop and appreciate an understanding of a new culture?”:
In preparation, try to encourage students to seek out examples of cultural media from their host culture, such as television programmes, newspaper or magazine articles, or even investigate the social media streams of prominent personalities in their host destination.
Watching and reading a variety of ‘normative’ interactions between people from a different culture will prompt students to reflect on what they understand normative interaction to be in their own culture. Comparing and contrasting recognisable types of cultural interaction allows people to develop the perspective needed to contextualise their own experiences and so the assumptions, biases and views those experiences engender.
By challenging their sense of ‘normative’, students are able to reflect, which will support and appreciate an understanding of new cultures.
- 8.“How can students become aware of the host country's cultural/social norms, what’s acceptable and what’s not in the host country from a socio-cultural point of view?”:
Encourage students to interact with peers from their host culture or country at home, particularly students on mobility from their own mobility destination. University societies centred on language groups, such as a French Society, offer a wealth of cultural knowledge and experience, and many members will have direct experience of the kinds of behaviour considered acceptable or not.
It can also be a good idea for students to immerse themselves in the media of their host culture. By watching or reading about how people interact with and react to one another, students will gain by example a sense of social-cultural expectations and learn through scenario-based examples the subtle boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
- “What is reverse culture shock and how can we prepare students for it?”:
Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a period of time immersed in another culture. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of their home country which may now feel unfamiliar to them. Many of the same aspects of Culture Shock that create stress when adapting to a new culture also play a part in Reverse Culture Shock and it may be helpful to conceive of both processes in similar terms. For students, it is important to highlight that this is very common and to recognise the signs.
For more information on reverse culture shock encourage the students to engage with the DIGIPASS Student Training programme, and complete the “Reverse Culture Shock” capsule. This will provide information on reverse culture shock, why students experience it, how to deal with it and what can help to overcome reverse culture shock.