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Adjustment Process in a New Culture—From Beyond Language

by Deena R. Levine and Mara B. Adelman

Understanding the cultural adjustment process can help you in coping with the often-intense feelings that you may experience as you begin your life in the US.  Each stage in the process is characterized by “symptoms” or outward signs typifying certain kinds of behavior.

  • “Honeymoon” period: Initially, many people are fascinated and excited by everything new.  The visitor is elated to be in a new culture.
  • “Culture shock”: The individual is immersed in new problems: housing, transportation, shopping, and language.  Mental fatigue results from continuous straining to comprehend the new language.
  • Initial Adjustment: Everyday activities such as housing and shopping are no longer major problems.  Although the visitor may not yet be fluent in the language spoken, basic ideas and feelings in the second language can be expressed.
  • Mental Isolation: Individuals have been away from their family and good friends for a long period of time and may feel lonely.  Many still feel they cannot express themselves as well as they can in their native language.  Frustration and sometimes a loss of self-confidence result.  Some individuals remain at this stage.
  • Acceptance and Integration: A routine (e.g., work, business or school) has been established.  The visitor has accepted the habits, customs, foods, and characteristics of the people in the new culture.  The visitor feels comfortable with friends, associates and the language of the country.

Note: This cycle may repeat itself throughout your stay in a new culture.  AND, these feelings are normal.  Note also that upon returning home, you may experience some of the same feelings as you did when you first arrived in the new culture.  This is called “reverse culture shock.”

Ways to Minimize the Impact of Culture Shock

  • Look for logical reasons for things in the host culture that seem different.  Relax your grip on your own culture.
  • Resist “looking down on” or making jokes and comments about the host culture.  Avoid others who take part in such derogatory remarks.
  • Talk about your feelings with a sympathetic and understanding friend or see a Foreign Student Advisor in the Office of International Services to talk about your feelings.
  • When you hear yourself making negative judgments or generalizations, stop and try to view the situation objectively—without value judgments.
  • Take care of your physical health.  Eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, and, most importantly, get some exercise every day (take a regular walk if nothing else).

If you feel very depressed or suicidal, contact the campus Student Counseling Center (520-4125) or an Immigration Advisor (OISS 520-4419) to help you get professional psychological support.