Culture Shock

Stages and Symptoms of Culture Shock

Spending time in another country generally means experiencing culture shock of some kind. Culture shock is a normal part of the adjustment to any culture that is new and different. Although everyone experiences culture shock differently, there are common stages most people experience. There are many different labels to these stages, but here are some common labels with a description of what you might experience during that stage.

  • Honeymoon Stage – this is usually when you first arrive in a new place. You’re excited and interested in exploring your new home and learning about the culture and language
  • Frustration or Rejection – this stage generally starts once your initial excitement wears off and is the stage most commonly associated with the term ‘culture shock’ (Cultural Adjustment, n.d.). In this stage you become frustrated by the challenge of dealing with everyday tasks in an unfamiliar environment. These feelings are often amplified when there is also a language difference to overcome. How individuals experience this stage can vary greatly depending on factors such as the degree of difference between their home and host cultures and their personal experiences. Here are some symptoms that might be associated with this stage of culture shock (Cultural Adjustment, n.d.; Mason, 2017; Schmidt, 2016; International Student Advising and Programs, Simon Fraser University, n.d.):
  • “changes in sleeping habits” such as insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • “changes in eating habits” and/or general digestive issues
  • feeling generally unwell and/or “recurrent illness”
  • suffering from aches, pains, or allergies
  • homesickness; frequent contact with friends and family at home
  • negativity, hostility or complaining, particularly about the host country/culture
  • “withdrawing from friends or other people and/or activities”
  • “withdrawal (e.g. spending excessive amounts of time reading” or doing solitary activities; “avoiding contact with host nationals”)
  • “sadness, loneliness, melancholy”
  • “frequent frustration” or irritation; “being easily angered”
  • boredom
  • Adjustment – in this stage life in your new home starts feeling easier. You start becoming familiar with the daily patterns of life and how to get things accomplished in your host culture.
  • Acceptance or Adaptation – in this stage your new host culture starts to feel less ‘foreign’ and you begin to accept, even enjoy, some of the differences from your home culture.

Although many people go through each of these stages when adjusting to a new culture, it is not uncommon to skip one or more stages, go through the stages in a different order, speed through one stage and spend a long time in another, or maybe even go through one or more stages a couple times. For you, culture shock may last several days or several months. It is a process of adjustment and everyone experiences the process differently. However, there are ways to minimize or speed up the cultural adjustment process. Here are some internet resources that talk about culture shock and/or offer some great ways to deal with culture shock:

A relatively short page about culture shock and how to make the transition easier:

A little about culture shock and dealing with culture shock that includes insight from actual people who experienced culture shock:

A fairly short, and somewhat funny page about culture shock and dealing with culture shock:

Some good information about culture shock and quite a few wonderful tips on how to approach cultural adjustment:

A little about culture shock and some ways to cope and “go deeper”:

10 great ways to help with culture shock:

Offers 10 ways to combat culture shock both before you leave home and while you are abroad:

Dealing with Culture Shock

Meeting people and getting involved in activities can be a great way to minimize culture shock and adapt more quickly to life at KU.  Below are some ways you can get involved at KU.

  • Participate in AEC, ISS, and other campus activities and events. Some common events AEC students attend are International Coffee Hour, Tea at Three, and ISS’s Kansas City Trip Series.
  • Get involved in a KU club such as the International Student Association, a language club, a club based on a geographic region such as the African Students Association, or an activity you enjoy such as the Irish Dance Club. See Rock Chalk Central ( for a list of the many student clubs and organizations at KU.