When living and studying in a new culture, the integration period can last for a while. Surrounded by new people, customs, values and environment; one is constantly receiving new information, so it is quite common to feel a bit out of place. Individual expectations affect how one reacts to a new country, so try to be open-minded.
Culture shock is not entirely a negative phase to go through. It can be a significant learning experience, after which you are more aware of aspects of your own culture as well as the new culture you have entered. Realising that you might go through this phase when studying abroad and recognising the symptoms will help coping with it. Common symptoms include homesickness, depression, difficulty to concentrate and irritability. Culture shock can also cause physical symptoms such as nausea, insomnia and loss of appetite.
Stages of Adaptation
When you are experiencing culture shock there are four basic identifiable stages of adaptation. Not everyone goes through these exact stages, but it is quite common to have these feelings when dealing with the positive as well as the negative aspects of a new culture.
The new environment is exciting and you are enthusiastic and curious about the new country and its culture. Your own home culture with its habits is still fresh and active in your mind.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common as you become more aware of the cultural differences. They seem more obvious and may be frustrating. Familiar things, such as food from home and being with other students from your own country offer comfort. You might reject everything around you and feel hostility towards the new culture. Comparing this new culture to your own is common, and many things seem to be much better at home.
3. Gradual Recovery
You accept the differences and similarities as you become more familiar with the new culture and new situations. You may feel relaxed and more confident in dealing with different aspects of the new culture.
As you become more involved in different social activities and get to know the people and places around you, you will adapt to the new culture and create some sense of belonging. You may not even realise how well you have adjusted to the new culture until you return to your home country. Then you may experience a reverse culture shock.
When you are experiencing culture shock, it is important that you deal with it in a constructive way. When you find yourself in the middle of strange surroundings and people you do not know, it is pertinent that you pursue a ”normal life”.
- Explore your new surroundings and locate useful places such as the post office, shop, bank, the Finnish Student Health Service Centre and the hospital.
- Get settled in your apartment and make it as cosy as possible
- Introduce yourself to your neighbours and fellow students or researchers as other newcomers are in the same situation and you can support each other.
- Make the best of your time abroad by getting to know Finnish students as well.
- Take part in different social activities organised by the student associations e.g. ESN (Erasmus Student Network) and ISTU (International Students of Turku Universities). More information at Student Union (TYY)
- Have an open and curious mind. If the Finnish social customs puzzle you, do not be afraid to ask questions and get to know the culture, customs and values better
- Also keep in touch with your own culture and family
If you are having a hard time coping in the new environment, do not hesitate to talk about it with friends, colleagues, your tutor, teachers or study advisors. Talk to your family and keep in touch with your friends back home. If you feel that you need professional help, please contact the Finnish Student Health Service if you are entitled to these services.
Throughout this period of cultural adaptation, remember to take good care of yourself. Adapting to a new country, culture and social customs can sometimes be a complex and difficult process but in the end, experiencing new cultures is rewarding and enriching.