A student and staff member from Iowa State shared their experiences with culture shock and how every international student goes through this process when coming to Iowa State.
According to Verto Education, culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, lifestyle, or set of attitudes.
Navya Mannengi, international student engagement coordinator for the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), said international students often experience culture shock when subjected to a new life that has values. different from what they are used to.
Mannengi came to the United States from India when she was 5 and has been here ever since, but said she is still battling the effects of culture shock.
“Culture shock is not something that happens the moment you arrive. Almost 25 years later, I still feel that shock,” she said.
Pearly Das, a second-year Apparel, Merchandising and Design student, is an international student from India. She struggled with culture shock when she arrived in Iowa State, but said she was able to overcome her challenges. She is currently a student leader for the International First Year Experience (IFYE).
IFYE is a required seminar class for all new international undergraduate students. The class assists international students in their transition to the state of Iowa by providing them with academic resources and social opportunities.
In the classroom, Das teaches international students about culture shock and other topics related to their transition to Iowa State.
She said going through culture shock can feel like living someone else’s life.
“When they go through the culture shock phase, people don’t feel like they belong here,” Das said.
Culture shock can be especially difficult for students who worry about both their social and academic life when they come to the state of Iowa.
“[Coping with culture shock] takes up a lot of your energy and mind, which can distract you from your studies,” Das said. “I would be stressed about classes and making friends.
She said adapting to American culture overwhelmed her during her first semester.
“I felt so hopeless because I felt like it was my dream […] and I wasn’t doing well enough,” Das said.
Her brother, who was an international student before her, helped her adjust as she suffered culture shock.
Das said she also looked forward to the trips home to get through the toughest times she’s had adjusting to the new culture in the state of Iowa.
However, students can also struggle with culture shock when they return home after adjusting to American culture.
“[Culture shock] stay with you for life, because even when you return home to your home country, you experience culture shock again because you have changed,” Mannengi said.
Balancing two conflicting cultures can cause students to question their identity, as the way of life they were used to is no longer the norm.
“The deepest aspects of culture shock that aren’t talked about much are identity shifts and the management of values that clash between cultures,” Mannengi said.
Das said she experienced this culture shock when she first came to the state of Iowa. The contrast between the value of individualism in American culture and that of collectivism in Indian culture surprised her.
“You grow up with a certain set of values and identities that become like an anchor and you cling to that anchor and suddenly it disappears. You don’t have that anchor anymore,” Mannengi said.
She said students who find it difficult to identify with two cultures should find what works for them, but simply assimilating to the new culture is not the answer.
“Create an identity that you are proud of. You experience two cultures and choose the best of both,” Mannengi said.
She said international students dealing with culture shock can find support through the ISSO, as well as on-campus counseling if they are suffering from depression or other symptoms.
Facebook groups can also provide a sense of community for many international students, as they are groups tailored to specific groups of people.
Mannengi said she is part of a Facebook group for South Asian women, where she seeks advice from people who have had similar experiences to her.
“If you’re experiencing a symptom of culture shock, know that you’re not alone,” Mannengi said.
She suggested that students talk about their difficulties and not isolate themselves from others. She also recommended that students find ways to bring their culture and parts of their home with them so they can embrace their roots when they feel isolated.
“Find a few people that you can be very authentic with. So if you miss home, you can share your culture with them,” she said.
International students experiencing culture shock can contact or use the online resources provided by the Office for International Students and Scholars.