Culture Shock


Even though you have planned and prepared for it - leaving home and coming to study in a new country can be a stressful experience. It might be helpful to realise that it is normal to find the process of adapting to a new culture difficult at times.

What is 'culture shock'

The phrase 'culture shock' describes the anxiety that can be experienced when moving from a familiar culture to one which is new and unknown. It can affect anyone at any time in their lives, including International Students.

There are many changes to adjust to in the new culture such as different weather, landscape, language, food, dress, social roles, values and customs.

At the same time you are separated from the important people in your life, such as friends and family, who you would usually turn to for support in times of uncertainty.  All this can have an impact on how you feel emotionally and physically.

Stages of culture shock

It is useful to know about the various stages of culture shock, but remember everyone is different and experience things in their own way. Many people go through different phases of the process of adjustment a number of times. Or they might not feel they experience some stages at all.

The culture shock model

Honeymoon stage

When you first arrive in a new culture you may feel excited, stimulated and enriched by the differences you experience. During this stage, memories of home still feel close and this can feel protective.

Disintegration stage

As you spend more time away from home, the cultural differences you experience may no longer feel new and exciting but could feel confusing and isolating.  It is common to feel alone and miss your familiar support of family or friends.  

Re-integration stage

At this stage you may begin to reject the differences you encounter.  You might feel angry, frustrated or hostile towards the new culture and begin to compare it negatively to home. This is a healthy reaction and part of the adjustment.  It shows that you are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture

Autonomy stage

This is the first stage in acceptance. You start to accept the differences and feel like you can begin to live with them. You feel more confident and better able to cope with any new situations based on your growing experience. You no longer feel isolated and instead you feel able to look at the world around you and appreciate where you are.

Independence stage

During this final stage you start to feel at home.  You can view things in a more realistic way and appreciate the differences and the similarities of your new culture.  You feel more comfortable and confident to make decisions based on your own values and preferences. You no longer feel so alone and isolated

How to help yourself

If you feel you may be struggling to adjust to life here in Bristol, there are things you can do to help yourself feel better:

How the Student Counselling Service can help

You can make an appointment to talk confidentially with a counsellor, or book onto any of the groups and workshops that you might find helpful via the website.  We also provide Talk and Plan (TAP) sessions where you can have a 20 minute appointment with a counsellor to make a self help plan.