How to Adapt to a New Culture When Studying Abroad
Do your research
Learning about the culture before you arrive can help you feel more prepared and less intimidated. Ask your university if there is a student you can connect with who can help you learn more about the culture, or look for online forums and articles. Maybe try connecting with your roommate, if he/she is a domestic student, to learn more about the norms. Read books, watch films, and talk to people who have already been there.
It can be easy to make assumptions about a new culture based on your own cultural biases. Remember, there are over 50 commonly spoken languages on Earth, spoken by over 7 billion people, from over 190 countries. Try to go into your study abroad experience with an open mind, and be willing to accept that there may be different ways of doing things that are just as valid as your own.
If you have never traveled outside your country, or region, before, then things may be a little overwhelming at first. Remember that culture shock is real, and it can take some time to adjust to a new way of life. If you’re experiencing culture shock, don’t worry – studies show that as many as one in five international students experience this when first exposed to their new study abroad experience. Give yourself time to settle in and get used to your new surroundings.
Make friends with locals
One of the best ways to learn about a culture is to befriend someone who lives there. This could be as simple as your roommate, your RA (i.e resident assistant), your lab partner, or the random boy or girl who sits next to you in class. Through your experiences with them, they will introduce you to new customs, food, and music, and help you navigate your new home.
Be ready to change
Don’t go into your new experience with too many preconceptions. “It’s going to be like this” or “How different can it be”. Most international students struggle because they are unwilling or unable to change. Before you leave, prepare yourself mentally to be willing to try new things and to see things from a different perspective.
Adjusting to a new culture can take time. If you expect everything to be perfect or to always understand what’s going on right away, then you are most likely going to be in for a rude awakening. Simply watching a movie or reading a book about a country will only give you so much information. As they say, you never know how cold the water is until you jump in the pool. So prepare yourself to jump, and give yourself time to settle in and to learn.
Things may not always go according to plan when you’re in a new place. Sometimes things may take longer than you expected. Or it may be a little harder for you to adjust than it was for your friends or your family members. That’s fine – we all move at our own pace. Be prepared for changes, be flexible and go with the flow.
Remember that you are a guest in a new culture. Show respect for the customs and traditions of the people you are visiting. This may involve euphemisms in the language, certain food preferences, or particular mannerisms involving hospitality. Whatever it may be, remember to always be respectful.
Be aware of your own cultural biases
We all have them! Try to be conscious of your own cultural lens and how it might be affecting your interactions with people from a different background.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to admit when you don’t understand something. Good communication is key to successful cross-cultural interactions.
Seek out opportunities to connect
During your time studying abroad, look for ways to connect with the local community. Join clubs or organizations, volunteer, or take part in cultural events.
Be true to yourself
At the end of the day, you are still you! Don’t try to completely change who you are to fit in. Be confident in your own identity and values.
Studying abroad can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Enjoy it! Embrace the adventure and make memories that will last a lifetime.