Being away from home for the first time can be a daunting experience as you learn to adjust to a new culture alongside your studies. The impact of moving away from a familiar culture to a new unfamiliar environment is known as ‘culture shock’.
It’s important to know that culture shock is felt amongst many students throughout their studies and is perfectly normal.

This article will include guidance and tips on how to alleviate feelings of culture shock.

What can contribute to culture shock?
Things that may contribute to culture shock include:
  • Adjusting change in climate

  • Experiencing different types of cuisine

  • Learning different languages

  • Unfamiliar social behaviours

What is the W Curve?
The process of culture shock can be illustrated by a model known as the “W” curve. This may not relate entirely to your experience. Sometimes the process is faster or slower but it can be useful to see the different stages that fellow students may be experiencing.

Many people go through different phases of the process of adjustment several times, so parts of the curve in the diagram may repeat themselves. For instance, at significant times such as important family dates or festivals you may feel distressed or lonely, while at other times you feel quite settled.

However, many people have reported that this model has reflected something of their experience and they have found it helpful to realise they are not the only ones to have had these feelings.
When you first arrive in a new culture, differences are intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and curious. At this stage you are still protected by the close memory of your home culture.
A little later, differences in the culture may make you feel confused or isolated as cultural differences intrude and familiar supports (eg family or friends) are not immediately available.
Next you may reject the differences you encounter. You may feel angry or frustrated, or hostile to the new culture. At this stage you may be conscious mainly of how much you dislike it compared to home. Don’t worry, as this is quite a healthy reaction. You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture.
Differences and similarities are accepted. You may feel relaxed and more confident as you become more familiar with situations and feel able to cope with new situations based on your growing experience.
Differences and similarities are valued and important. You may feel full of potential and able to trust yourself in all kinds of situations. Most situations become enjoyable and you are able to make choices according to your preferences and values.
You can see a diagram of the ‘W’ curve on the UK Council for International Student Affairs webpage.

How can I manage feelings of culture shock?
There are a range of things you can do to minimise the effects of culture shock. These include: 

  • Keeping in regular touch with your loved ones

  • Having familiar things around you that have personal meaning, such as photographs souvenirs or ornaments.

  • Finding a local shop or supplier which sells familiar food to you.

  • Eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise.

  • Connecting with other international students at King’s;take a look at our article How can I meet other international students at King’s?