Skip to main content Skip to main navigation Skip to footer content

Cultural Adjustment

Living in a new culture can be physically exhilarating, intellectually challenging, personally rewarding, and highly frustrating.  When we visit a foreign country, we interact with its culture in a necessarily superficial way and simply don’t have the time to experience it with much depth.  When we live in another country for an extended period, we have the opportunity to experience the culture from within, to participate in it and be governed by different and sometimes seemingly mysterious social codes.

Photo: Lauren Yep, IWU Freeman Asia, Summer 2018.

Adjusting to those codes -- even coming simply to identify them -- will take time; more time for some than for others.  Study abroad experts like to think of culture as an iceberg: It has aspects that are readily visible and identifiable (such as language, food, holidays, and dress), but much of what defines a culture is invisible.  Your encounters with those invisible elements of culture -- from beliefs about family, education, and relationships to all the unstated forms of polite behavior -- have the most potential to frustrate you.

To learn more about the emotions you are likely to experience as you adjust to your new home, read about the stages of cultural adjustment and about culture shock.  The main thing to keep in mind as you adjust to life in your host country is that, although you may initially be disoriented and even frustrated or disappointed, you will find your equilibrium.  Remain open to the experience and to the similarities and differences.  In fact, embrace them; they are the reason you have opted to study abroad.  To help you, we've put together a list of adjustment tips.  We also suggest you check out the online program "What's Up With Culture?" from University of the Pacific.

Remember, too, that though you may find some aspects of the host culture confusing, you should not judge or try to alter the culture. You are the guest, and it is your responsibility to respect the customs, laws, and norms of the host country and to adapt your behavior.