Culture shock

Eliminating the Shock of Culture Shock: Helping Students Through Transitions, Part Two

Culture shock is deeply personal; its effects on body and mind vary. Some may feel lonely and homesick, while others feel frustrated with how things are working in the new place. These feelings can test a student’s confidence and cause psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches or trouble sleeping or eating, all of which will negatively impact a student’s life and learning. a university student. Culture shock is real and so are its effects.

I’ve written before about the steps institutions should take to prepare students for this big life change before they come to college, with a particular focus on international students. This resource will explore what support should be in place for students once they are there, to ensure they get the most out of their college experience.

Preparing staff to support international students

Culture shock doesn’t always happen immediately upon arrival. Many students experience this in the middle of their first semester when the excitement and newness have worn off and academic expectations are starting to take their toll. We want our students to make the most of their time and feel comfortable in a new environment. It is therefore important that academic and support staff become aware of the process of cultural adaptation that many students go through so that they can offer appropriate assistance. Steps to help prepare staff include:

• Use culture shock videos when onboarding staff and preparing for welcome week to make them aware of potential challenges facing their students. You can pre-record short interviews in which current and former students share their main concerns about coming to study at your institution, identify different factors that can contribute to culture shock, and recommend strategies that can help someone cope. adapt quickly. It is more persuasive when staff learn this directly from students.

• Let all staff know that late October through November and late January through February are the most common times for culture shock in the first semester.

• Emphasize to staff, as well as students, that culture shock and homesickness are typical. It is also temporary.

Actions to help students in culture shock

Feeling welcome and part of a community is fundamental to a positive learning experience. It affects the well-being of students and increases motivation to study and therefore academic success. Fostering a sense of community and ensuring that all students, local and international, are welcome should be a priority for staff, especially during student transition.

Steps university staff can take to support and reassure students about culture shock include:

• Do not pass judgment on student communication style or behavior. Clearly explain to students how things work at your institution. Explain, but don’t tell them they’re wrong. Their behavior could be completely correct in their cultural context. Encourage students to share how certain things are normally done in their culture. This will help build trust and address differences in a friendly way early on.

• Be patient if a student has language difficulties. Language proficiency will improve over time and it takes some time to feel comfortable speaking a foreign language, especially with native speakers. Avoid using idioms or abbreviations that students might be unfamiliar with.

• Encourage and facilitate initiatives that help students engage in cultural exchanges with each other. Incorporate social elements into the academic calendar where local and international students have the opportunity to socialize with each other as part of the program, such as peer mentoring, pair work, field trips.

• Remind students to focus on their personal goals and not to compare themselves to others. Everyone is different and takes their time to adapt to the new environment. This can be highlighted in conversations with personal tutors, program directors, and student support staff.

• Encourage international students to share their experiences in institutional blogs or vlogs or on the website. Help them see the adventure and progress in a transition that is not always easy.

• Host a social media campaign around November where students can share ideas such as what they miss from home or what they found surprising about their new location, as well as photos of things who helped them create a home away from home.

• In your mid-term communication with students, include information about available support services, cultural societies, and sports, exercise, and wellness offerings.

• Regularly gather information about students’ transition experiences and feedback on what you can improve to make students feel part of the community. Reflect on these findings and use them to develop or refine student support initiatives.

The transition to university involves changes and challenges for all students. Students arriving from another country may encounter additional difficulties when navigating cultural differences. But with the support of knowledgeable staff and student networks, as well as a wealth of readily available resources, most students will overcome their culture shock and see it as a valuable learning experience.

Inga Ackermann is Global Community Coordinator at Edinburgh Global at the University of Edinburgh.