Cultural shock: what to [actually] expect when you come studying abroad
“Warwick is a very multicultural environment, therefore it’s easy to make friends. Everyone is welcoming and you’ll have the time of your life from the minute you start.” As an international student, this is probably one of the assumptions you make prior to starting your degree and therefore have expectations about “how it should be like”. However, getting to that statement is an entire acculturation process, rather than an easy-to-obtain goal. If your expectations are not met in the first few weeks or months here, you’ll start thinking about what went wrong. I’m telling you now, nothing will no wrong and in this article, I’m going to explain why.
The Honeymoon Stage
Very often, at the beginning, it’s likely you’ll feel this overwhelmingly positive emotions during which you become infatuated with the people and the new surroundings. At this stage, it seems like the greatest decision ever made, an exciting adventure awaiting to run its course. And it’s fairly understandable why. The first few weeks here are freshers’ weeks. Everyone parties, socializes, has a good time and immerse themselves in the novelty of being away from home, with all the feelings of freedom, independence and excitement this implies. I remember saying to myself that everything seemed “movie-like”. A lot of new faces whose names I couldn’t remember, colorful accents and stories starting with “well, in my country…”
The Frustration Stage
After the wave of the first month passes and you start getting into a routine, things will get a little more complicated. Some feelings of dissatisfaction may kick in and there’s high change you easily become impatient or tired. For example, when I needed to start my essays, I felt all over the place. I didn’t know where to start from and how to go about researching, gathering materials and putting it all together in an academic form. There was also the back-and forth going to societies and events which gave me a feeling of fatigue. No need to say, miscommunication and failure to understand people, especially natives, became are a source of frustration. I would stare at them, nodding in a clueless way because I would have a hard time understanding their accents and slangs (which of course, you’re not taught or prepared for in school). I had a hard time getting used to some cultural practices, and I would often find myself saying: “what on earth are they doing…”. Even the simplest things managed to trigger me! Mixing white and black clothes together, forgetting the pizza in the oven, everything seemed to go downhill. Homesickness and longing are completely normal in this stage.
The Adjustment Stage
If the last paragraph managed to put you off, I hope this one is going to cheer you up. You’ll slowly begin to gain a sense of direction and surely begin to feel more familiar and comfortable with the people, culture, food, and surroundings of your new environment. I’m not saying you’ll magically start to like everything and everyone, but at least you’ll have a more realistic perspective upon how things are. It’s still early days to draw conclusions, but at least, in this stage, I slowly started to get into a routine. I would say, for me, this happened in early term two. Around this time, I met a few people I started to get closer to. And by a few, I’m saying two. The “socializing mania” tended to fade away in time and naturally, I started seeing beyond the “party pals” and was interested in making a confidant. What got me close to them was exactly the courage to share my feelings towards my experience and to realize that, as internationals, we’d been through very similar situations.
The Acceptance Stage
This should be the final stage of the culture shock. You will might not have gotten the hang of it completely, neither had I, but I have accepted and adopted some of the customs. For instance, it wasn’t a surprise for me anymore when a cashier would greet me like: “Hello love, are you alright?”. Instead of awkwardly smiling to them, now I reply back and actually enjoy the little chit-chat. I learnt to like my experience and have patience. Without trying to put in on fate or any miraculous force, I do believe that, in time, things get settled as it’s in our nature to accommodate on the environment we live in and to embrace it.
What to keep in mind from this? Don’t make hyperbolic expectations so as to avoid getting deceived. Be aware of this up and down process and accept every stage as an integral part of your development. You’ll enjoy the ride, I’m sure!