You’re probably anticipating your study abroad with excitement, possibly mixed with some anxiety. If you’re like most students preparing to study abroad, you are focusing on the opportunities, new experiences, and adventures that await you. You’ve probably heard mostly extremely positive feedback from students you know who have recently studied abroad.
In fact, most students who study abroad say it was one of the most positive and enriching aspects of their academic career. By the end of their program most do not want to leave. Almost everyone who reaches this point, however, experienced an initial phase of culture shock. Whether you’re going to a country that may feel as familiar as the UK or Australia, or whether you are going to someplace that you expect to feel quite different from the US, you will find marked differences between your host country and your own, and there will be many things you won’t at first understand.
Everyone who goes through the process of adapting to a new culture experiences culture shock—whether mild or extreme—and you should anticipate it as a perfectly normal, if stressful, part of your study abroad experience. Culture shock usually does not occur immediately. At first you will probably feel elated by your new surroundings. After this "honeymoon" phase, you may start to feel frustrated or irritated, or feel that you will "never" adapt. Eventually you will begin to feel more comfortable, and ultimately you may feel completely incorporated into your host culture or feel that you are "forgetting" your American ways. In the early, negative stage of culture shock, it's important to remember that you WILL get over it. You may feel such a part of your host culture by the time your study abroad program is over that you will experience “reverse culture shock” when you return to the US.
Knowing that culture shock AND reverse culture shock are normal and anticipating them are the first steps to managing them. You can find valuable tips about coping with culture shock from many resources, including those listed below.
Study Abroad Handbook (see sections on culture shock and reverse culture shock)