Tackling Culture Shock


Tackling Culture Shock

The first days of college are right around the corner. Hastily yet cautiously, you drive your car from the highway and make your way past the grand sign of your university. It’s official. You are now a college student.

Anxiously, you follow the signs leading you to your dorm. It’s move in day. In no time you set your sights on your new home. The Freshman dorms. The outside is picturesque but slightly intimidating. This may perhaps be one of the tallest buildings you’ve ever seen…apart from all of the other buildings on the campus.

With just the slightest bit of hesitation, you emerge from your car and take in a whiff of that university air. Finally, you’ve made it. As you begin to proceed to the dorm’s office to get your key you notice something.

There’s a lot of people here that look very different from what you’re used to. Perhaps there are more females than you imagined. Or maybe there’s a mixture of races that you hadn’t predicted. You notice several individuals with a type of clothing that you’ve never seen before. What could be the purpose?

Suddenly, it hits you that you’re in a very unfamiliar environment, drastically different from what you’ve grown up with for the majority of your young life. Some might refer to this feeling as culture shock.

What is Culture Shock

As defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, culture shock can be defined as a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation. It’s extremely common for college students to feel some variation of this when they head off to a new college or university.

While most college-related articles and books I’ve read typically focus on culture shock in a more general sense (being in unfamiliar events, towns, countries, etc.), I want to focus on a different level of the concept that pertains specifically to those of you in a college setting.

It’s important to realize that feelings of loneliness can derive from culture shock. This is especially true for Freshman.

You’re surrounded by people much different than yourself. Perhaps you grew up in a highly Christian town or neighborhood and you’ve arrived on campus only to encounter an atheist or agnostic. Perhaps you’re used to a school with a majority race which might have specific values and beliefs. Suddenly, you’re in a new school with a new majority whose values and attitudes are far different than what you’re used to.

So, What Should I Do?

Many of the articles I’ve seen in the past will simply say the feeling will pass. Sure, this could be the case for many of you. You’ll likely adjust and get used to it. However, that advice just isn’t very practical to me. I believe that taking a more active role in your feelings, rather than passively wait for the feelings to subside is, at its core, a more practical technique.

The main advice for abandoning the feeling of culture shock: Find ways to intermingle with various groups in order to learn from them and view things from their perspective.

Will this be easy?
No, of course not.


It will certainly require you to take a giant leap out of your comfort zone. But here’s how I see it, aren’t you uncomfortable anyway? You might as well allow your discomfort to pay off.

What I’ve done in the past to remedy any feeling of culture shock is to participate in an activity you enjoy with others of different groups. For example, a few years ago I lived in Japan for a brief amount of time. Certainly, there were feelings of culture shock. I was in an unfamiliar environment and could hardly speak of understand Japanese (which, admittedly, hasn’t really changed to this day). However, when trying to form connections with the locals, I found that using my artwork (I used to draw cartoon characters) allowed us both to find something in common that we enjoyed which made the interaction far less stressful.

One of the most direct ways of combating culture shock is to just mix into various groups naturally. Take time to actively understand them and learn about them in a genuine manner. The easiest way to do this is by finding a common enjoyable activity.

Now, in my situation, I was a bit lucky because, generally speaking, I knew what to expect in Japan and there were things I knew about Japan that I already enjoyed, which made it much easier to find something in common but the concept still applies.

College is for learning! Sure, that seems like common sense but allow me to extrapolate. In college, your goal isn’t just to learn from your classes or the books that you read. Take it a step further. Challenge yourself. Learn from the people around you. The culture shock of college shouldn’t be seen as daunting but instead as opportunistic. It’s a chance to grow.

“I still don’t understand. How can learning from other groups of people help me grow”, I hear you clamoring.

Well, rather than just provide one reason, I’ll give you five good reasons that’ll hopefully persuade you.

Promotes Open-Mindedness

The more you allow yourself to challenge your preconceived beliefs, the more you realize how little you once understood. Open-mindedness is the ability to see different perspectives while being willing to change previous ones. In essence, having an open mind allows you to enhance your intelligence which can make you an individual of high logic.

Increases Knowledge Base

As alluded to earlier, once you begin to learn about things that may contradict or expand your previous means of thinking, you’ll have increased your knowledge base. You’ll be able to recognize the gaps in your knowledge that you might not have noticed before.

Enhances Self-Awareness

Of course, once you develop an open mind and realize that you don’t understand everything, you’ll likely begin to ask questions. You’ll be more likely to look within yourself and seek out other strengths and weaknesses which could lead to a higher level of self-awareness.

You’ll become better equipped to combat uncertainty

Meanwhile, while dealing with different groups of people, you’ll probably notice trends and be able to better pick up on environmental cues and social cues. This will allow you to better draw from previous experiences and make more logical assumptions about anything you’re unaware of.

Advocates Well-Roundedness

Finally, you’ll become a more well-rounded individual. You’ll have grown. Experiences that you’ve had in your past will positively shape you. From there, you’ll have more clarity about yourself and what you desire in the future.


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