Dealing with Culture shock

Living in another country is an exciting experience. New worlds are discovered, horizons broadened, challenges met. As well as being exciting, an intercultural experience can at times be disorienting and stressful, with most people experiencing some degree of culture shock during their stay abroad.

What is culture shock?

Culture shock is a reaction that occurs when a person steps out of a familiar culture and begins to make his or her way in a new culture. It is a normal reaction to a sudden change, and passes as you adjust to the new culture. People react differently to cultural transitions depending on their background, experiences and personality.  Some people are only mildly affected while others react much more strongly. The timing can also differ. You may feel disoriented soon after arrival, or on the other hand you may find yourself experiencing a reaction only after some time.

Why does culture shock occur?

After the first wave of excitement, navigating an unfamiliar culture on a daily basis with its different values, attitudes and  ways of communicating and behaving can be overwhelming. It can take time to adjust to the different climate, food and physical conditions. You may find that your usual ways of dealing with challenges are less effective. With the many uncertainties and challenges and without family and friends to provide their familiar support, it is usual to feel tired and confused and to experience a drop in self-confidence.

How do I know if I am experiencing culture shock?

The symptoms can range from mild uneasiness and uncertainty to more persistent anxiety, homesickness and unhappiness. Other symptoms include: tiredness, headache, irritability, digestive problems, insomnia and depression.

7 Things to do to minimise the effects of culture shock

  1. Be prepared
    Knowing that culture shock exists and that it will probably affect you will make it easier to accept. (Remember that reverse culture shock is likely to occur when you return home)
  2. Adjust your expectations
    Realise that many things will be done differently here. Examine your assumptions about how they should be done, reflect on what is happening and be willing to adjust your expectations and behaviour.
  3. Develop social networks
    It is important to have people around you to share experiences, laugh with and to give mutual support.
  4. Keep active and stay positive
    Keep physically active, take the opportunity to discover the Netherlands and  try out new things. This will help keep you positive and confident, and benefit your study as well.
  5. Keep in touch with home
    Especially in the beginning, regular contact with family and friends at home can help you adjust to the unfamiliar environment. Try not to complain too much! Be aware that excessive contact with home can hinder the adjustment process!
  6. Give yourself time to adjust
    It can take some time to get used to the new environment and to develop a routine that suits you. You may also need time to get used to the study approach at Leiden University.
  7. Seek help if necessary
    If  you find that your symptoms are persisting or interfering too much with your daily life, it can help to talk to someone about your situation. The student counseling service has trained counselors who can help you.

Last Modified: 05-02-2010