Adjusting to a New Culture

Everybody who moves to another country will experience feelings of distress, confusion, nervousness and loss of confidence. This general sense of unease is sometimes described as culture shock. If you begin to experience these feelings, don’t worry, it is normal and will soon pass. As you settle in and come to terms physically and mentally with the differences in culture, people, social customs and life in your new environment, you will start to enjoy the change, and experience a new found energy. This process of adjustment normally takes from three to six months and is sometimes called the ‘U’ curve of adjustment because of the way your feelings fall and rise.

The first step in coping with the problem is being aware that what you are going through is normal. Some other steps you can take include:

Be Positive: Concentrate on the positive aspects of your decision to come to Australia to study and try to dismiss any negative thoughts you are having;

Examine Your Expectations: When confronted with situations that make you uncomfortable or miserable, examine your expectations. Were you realistic in your preconceived notions of life and people of Australia? Have you generalized too much? Are you too rigid in your mind set? Try to be flexible and change to meet your new circumstances;

Listen and Observe: Human beings are different everywhere. Their behavior and methods of communication both verbal and non-verbal are a result of their cultural history and social systems. The correctness or incorrectness of their ways compared to yours is not important. You are in Australian society – listen, observe and learn so that you don’t interpret or communicate the wrong signals;

Ask Questions: If you don’t understand something, including what people are saying or gestures that are used, ask them. You will find most people are happy to take the time to explain things to you;

Use English language as much as possible. The more conversational English language is used, the more your English will improve. Read the local newspaper and watch television;

Get plenty of sleep. Coping with new situations is energy sapping and exhausting

Go Out and Explore: Learning to function in a new culture requires effort and contact. Don’t be too shy to meet people or get involved in social activities. Though cross-cultural transactions can be difficult and can lead to stress and frustration, they can also be fun. Try and see the humorous side of uncomfortable situations and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. With time, understanding and knowledge, you will soon become ‘bi-cultural’;

Talk it Out: If you come from a culture where people don’t talk about their problems, attempt to overcome this. Talking about your adjustment problems, especially to other new international students, will lighten the burden and make you realize that these problems are quite common.

Seek Help: If you continue to have adjustment problems, seek help. Speak to the College’s Student Support Officer in person or call +61 8 8212 1223.

Meet people and make new friends: join clubs, societies, and religious groups. It is normal to feel homesick from time to time. People who move to another country go through different stages of adjustment. At times you may feel frustrated, depressed, anxious or angry. For information on adjusting to a new culture, please ask the Student support officer who can guide you to the appropriate help and resources. Meanwhile, there are some suggestions to help ease the transition. Firstly, however, you must examine your own expectations. Your feelings may be quite reasonable but you may need to put things into a more realistic perspective. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why did I decide to study overseas?
  • What do I expect to gain from studying in Australia?
  • What are my goals?
  • What are some of the difficulties I might face?
  • Have I ever faced challenges in my life?
  • How did I solve them?
  • How do others solve this problem?
  • Am I the only person who feels this way?
  • Is this the worst thing that could happen in the world?

Strategies for adjusting to the new culture

  • The following strategies can help students to adjust to their new culture and decrease the impact of culture shock:
  • Keep in touch with family or friends by writing email, letters or talking on the phone. However, try not to phone home too frequently as for some this may inhibit efforts to make adjustments
  • Exercise and learn to relax
  • Look for similarities in cultures
  • Do familiar activities, especially those that demonstrate existing competencies. This will help students to feel comfortable
  • Get involved in activities that encourage meeting people and making new friends: join clubs and societies
  • Seek information and explore the new environment preferably with a few others as this will help you feel more in control of uncertainties Keep in touch with people from the College
  • Get to know a few people well by spending some quality time with them e.g. going to movies or outings together rather than meeting lots of people only once at parties
  • Remember although students may feel negative about new surroundings their mood will lift as soon as they become more settled in routines
  • Get plenty of sleep. Coping with new situations is energy sapping and exhausting
  • Use English language as much as possible. The more conversational English language is used, the more your English will improve. Read the local newspaper and watch television
  • Find out about the College’s support services
  • Make sure small goals are set that can be achieved every day
  • Observe what others do in the same situation and reflect on why they do it that way. Talk to them so as to can improve understanding
  • Ask questions when unsure of what is expected.