Culture Shock

Many international students experience culture shock after spending some time in the United States. Before arriving, students should review information about culture shock so that they can be prepared when and if symptoms present themselves.

Culture shock is a perfectly normal part of the adjustment process whenever a person enters a new culture. Often when international students arrive at the University of Richmond campus, they are charmed and fascinated by everything and everyone around them. Then, after two or three months, students sometimes begin to feel differently about their new surroundings, homesickness becomes profound, and even small problems seem overwhelming.

If, after you have been in Richmond a few months, you find yourself experiencing some of these feelings, remember that the feelings are normal and temporary.

While it is quite probable that you will experience some culture shock, there are things that you can do to prevent a serious case of it. Here are some tips on maintaining your mental balance while juggling all the new facets of life in the United States:

  • Get adequate rest, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet so that you can maintain your physical and mental health. The dining center has a dietician who can help you with any dietary concerns.
  • Actively develop social relationships with people from your own country, with others who are also new on campus, and with U.S. students. Form a group with others who can share your new experiences. For example, you can join a club, participate in student government, or play a sport. All of these activities can increase your understanding of reasons for certain customs, attitudes, and so on. Understanding these reasons can often reduce anger and frustration.
  • Develop strategies for approaching people and introducing yourself. In the United States, most people cherish and respect privacy, so they may hesitate to approach you. If you wish to make friends, take the initiative. Take opportunities when standing in line or sitting next to someone on a bus or in a classroom to begin a little conversation. Comments about the weather, music, or sports are often used to make "small talk" and provide opportunities for a more meaningful conversation.
  • Try to make adjustments to the United States without giving up your own personality and culture. Adopting what aspects of the U.S. culture you admire or can, at least, tolerate and rejecting the aspects that you don't care for will help preserve your feelings of integrity. Sacrificing all of your preferences in order to fit in may result in resentment and unhappiness. Flexibility and honesty with yourself make a good combination.
  • Seek outside help if the symptoms of culture shock become apparent. A good place to start is the Office of International Education. The professionals who work there have encountered these kinds of problems frequently and have very good suggestions for solving them. They can also refer you to others on campus that may be able to give additional help. The worst way to handle symptoms is to ignore them. Instead, acknowledge them early and seek assistance.

Once culture shock has occurred, the adjustment process will begin. Daily activities such as housing, shopping, and attending classes will become easier as your proficiency in the language increases and you become more comfortable in your environment. There may still be times of loneliness and a temporary loss of self-confidence when problems with language occur, but these times will not last as long as they did previously.

Finally, after you have been here for several months, you will begin to feel at ease. You will have become accustomed to habits, customs, foods, and characteristics of people of the United States. You will have developed a circle of friends and will feel comfortable with the language and people around you. This is the goal of the adjustment process, to accept and integrate with the new culture. We hope that you will reach this point very soon in your stay at the University.