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International Student Cultural Adjustment

The Adjustment Experience

Living in a new country and a new culture takes some time to get used to and requires adjustments to differences in climate, food, time, and social interaction. The cultural adjustment process may not be easy or comfortable, but it is extremely rewarding. Allow yourself plenty of time to feel comfortable in your new environment. You will almost certainly grow in self-awareness and appreciation of both this new culture and the culture of your home country. Feel free to meet with an International Student Advisor for tips on cultural adjustment or to find out more about free counseling and other resources on campus.

Stages of the Cultural Adjustment Process

Every person’s adjustment process is personal and unique. However, most people experience the following stages to some degree.

Stage 1

  • General anxiety mixed with great excitement
  • Many details to take care of while getting settled
  • Little time to relax and ponder your experience for several weeks
  • Lots of emotion when the initial excitement wears off

Stage 2

  • Frustration and tiredness with using English
  • Frustration with simple tasks taking a much longer time
  • Missing friends and family back home
  • Less energy and tolerance than usual
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Rest becomes very important

Stage 3

  • Greater sense of regularity and normality
  • Less frustration
  • Absorbing information becomes easier
  • Energy level returning to normal

Stage 4

  • A sense of ease about living in the new culture
  • Greater understanding of how the culture works
  • Comfortableness with your new life

Helpful Advice for Cultural Adjustment

  • Be aware of the process. Realize that your feelings are normal. Talk with another person about what you are going through. Find others who have gone through this transition.
  • Find an international student organization where you can meet people from your home country.
  • Find some American friends who will share insights with you into American culture. You may be surprised by their different opinions and experiences of their own culture.
  • Stay busy with new activities, as well as hobbies and sports you enjoyed at home.
  • Maintain your sense of humor. Being able to laugh at funny or embarrassing experiences really helps. You are not alone and everyone who lives in a different culture has these stories to share.
  • Keep realistic expectations about how long your adjustment process will take. Allow yourself plenty of time to accomplish tasks in your new environment.
  • Be open-minded, flexible, and adaptable. Some things won’t make sense for a long time and that’s okay.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you are confused or struggling to figure something out on your own.
  • Communicate with your instructors at PSU. In many cultures students do not talk with their faculty. In the U.S., communication with your instructors is extremely important. Reasons to speak with your instructors include not understanding an assignment, missing class for any reason, or being unable to turn in an assignment. Your instructors can make informed decisions about your class work only when you inform them. If you are uncomfortable speaking directly with an instructor, speak with one of the staff of ISSS.