Mental health for students far from home: Jamais vu with culture shock


The excitement of traveling abroad for vacation can be surreal, but the experience can be different for students who study abroad. In a new city, at a new school, with new friends and an entirely different culture, students may face sudden and daunting culture shock.

Science of culture shock

Studying abroad for many students is an exciting opportunity to see a new part of the world. The students embark on a journey with other students or friends, while continuing education. Yet students who travel abroad for the first time, may be unaware of culture shock and the drastic differences between the new culture and home., defines culture shock as, “A feeling of disorientation many people feel when experiencing an entirely new way of life.” The new environment is so different from home, that the student has trouble adjusting to it.

Students will feel culture shock and be unsure of how to process it. Part two of this series highlights the differences of homesickness and depression in students. For the student studying abroad, it is important to know the signs of culture shock. While the signs can hold similarities to feelings of depression and homesickness, culture shock is not a mental illness.  International student also explains culture shock symptoms include aches, pains, insomnia, irritability and anger. There are tips and methods to help deal with culture shock.

Cope with the jolt of culture shock

The National Association of International Educators and the National Association for Studying Abroad, or, NAFSA, highlights some the coping mechanisms and factors of culture shock. “Most students expect to quickly adapt to the new culture,” NAFSA explains. Students are usually prepared for the cultural differences before leaving as, “They need to adjust rapidly if they are to effectively meet the academic demands placed upon them.” Yet, the preparation may not be enough and students may still battle with varying levels of culture shock.

NAFSA also addresses, “Education abroad returnees often only talk about the positive aspects of their experiences abroad and do not mention the difficulties of adjusting to a new culture.” Culture shock is normal and does not indicate severe mental illness or weakness. Culture shock means that one has a good home and is in a new and somewhat uncomfortable environment. A method to help cope with culture shock is to chat with friends or family via internet. An easier option offered by NAFSA is to, “Encourage the student to talk about feelings with others, keep a journal, and connect to others who have experienced culture shock.” Other students are going through similar feelings and speaking to them will help to find a solution.

If the symptoms of culture shock persist for more than a few weeks and continue to worsen seek professional help. White River Academy is a residential boarding school for troubled boys ages 12 to 17; and accepts international students through the SEVIS certification. WRA features treatment of mental disorders, internal issues and substance abuse. Located in Delta, Utah, the educational program focuses on instilling character values, promoting positive growth and investment in the community. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

To read the previous entry in this series, click here.

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