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.
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.