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Cultural Adaptation – Defining the Concept

This concept refers to the process and time it takes to assimilate to a new culture. It is not always an easy transition. You begin to wonder if your manner of speaking or the way you dress would be acceptable.  What if your habits might have to change because the schedule is very different from what you’re used to? Would you be able to adjust to these differences, given the right amount of time?

Living in a new culture can be very difficult, especially if it is drastically different from your own.  One may feel frustrated because certain cultural norms do not make sense, so they cannot communicate or become angry. Cultural adjustment can subside quickly for some and last longer for others. It is helpful to understand some adjustment stages, while recognizing them as part of the normal adjustment process. These can be experienced in various orders and in different ways, depending on each person.

Stages of Cultural Adaptation:

Initial Stage – you have not left for your journey yet and you prepare yourself as much as possible for the unknown. This may be a scary thought “the unknown”, but through the unknown you discover yourself, you evolve and learn more about your likes and dislikes.

The “Honeymoon” Stage – this stage typically extends from arrival through the first couple of months within the new country. You feel curious and willing to learn and display an immediate excitement with your new home. Usually people go out of their way to acclimate to the culture, taking language lessons for example. Everyday tasks are now more challenging.

The Culture Shock Stage – this part of the process will give you feelings of confusion associated with experiencing a new culture. You begin to notice extreme differences between your native culture and the new one. It is good to ask why there are differences, so you may better understand the cultural implications behind them. If you find this process too difficult and are unable to cope with these changes, it is recommended that you reach out to a counselor that can help you through your hard time.

Adaptation Stage – after the process of understanding the differences and working through your feelings, you now feel more comfortable with the host culture, more part of it. The strand of irritability from the previous stage is what made you grow stronger and be more aware of how the society you live in really works.

Re-adaptation Stage – you are now back home and you begin to teach others who you were, who you are, how much this whole experience has made you grow on a personal level, not only in your habits but in your world view as well.

Living in a very different culture than your own may seem scary at first, but if you give yourself a chance to understand how it all works and what are the strategies to adapt, then you will achieve the personal growth and you will be able to enjoy the experience.

Cultural adaptation - steps to ease the process

Choosing to study in another country can be an amazing, but scary decision.  Even though it will help you grow - you gain independence from your family, you improve your language skills, you can meet new, interesting people - it doesn’t mean that you will have an easy road from the first moment you arrive there.

Adapting to a new culture does take time and it is not something that will just happen overnight.  However, with the right mindset and the right perspective, you can overcome the obstacles that can appear.

The first step is to acknowledge that it will not be all fun - like any other thing in life, if we are being honest. Yes, having full autonomy, living in another country and meeting another culture is fantastic, but if you do it with an unrealistic, idealistic perspective, you can set yourself up for failure. Try to think about what can be difficult and to identify the solutions available for them.

For that, you have to do your own research. You need to become familiar with the expectation of the academic system in the respective country, with the social customs that are used there and with the emotional support that you can access through your university.

For understanding the academic system, you can talk to other students, professors or university staff members. There are no bad questions when it comes to something that important. Ask anything you think is good to know: where you can find everything- the campus map, what is the best way of finding the materials you will need, examples of evaluation requirements.

To understand the social customs, try to find someone that can help you learn the cultural etiquette and values of the country. It can be either another foreign student who has lived there longer or a new friend that you found there. *Learning something about the country’s history, politics or traditions can be a good starting point for the discussions with the locals.

The lack of familial support can result in feelings of stress and loneliness. Those feelings will make the whole transition seem like a burden and will stop you from identifying the benefits. Find the resources available in the university- counseling programs, events for foreign students, groups dedicated to them.  Also, establish some rules for communicating with your family and your friends from back home- a video-call once a week, being a part of some family meals with the help of technology. Staying in contact with the familiar habits will help you ease the process of moving.  *You can search a local restaurant where you can eat your traditional food. More than that, you can take your new colleagues there and introduce them to your culture.

Adapting to different cultures requires patience. But it is a fantastic experience and, in the end, you will master it. If you are planning to choose this road or if you already did it, congratulations! It’s a process that will help you learn more about yourself, your strength and your resources. You just need to give yourself the time to adjust to all the changes.

Humans have always been like pack animals, thus making us very social beings by necessity, we crave that interaction with friends, family, relationships.  We are born into this world to be together, not alone. Even the loneliest of „wolves” can get sad and want someone to talk to, someone they could touch, be close to.  But what happens when the fears get a hold of you and you find it harder to interact with others without thoughts of being boring, judged, or saying something wrong?

Millions of people around the world experience symptoms of anxiety in social interactions. Let’s get more acquainted with these symptoms:

  • Somatizations (pulse increase, sweating, redness in the face, suffocating sensation)
  • Rigid body position
  • Inability to make eye contact
  • The fear of meeting new people (even if there’s a desire to do so)
  • Extreme awareness of how we talk and behave
  • The fear of being criticized, avoidance behaviour

Dealing with social anxiety means avoiding a variety of social events, including those that could be a source of fun and joy. After these have passed, some people may feel regret over missing them which can lead to overwhelming negative emotions. Social anxiety can lead to isolation and reduced confidence.

There are multiple ways to cope with these emotions, understand and learn to control them, and here are a few helpful ones:

Avoid negative coping strategies – finding comfort in anything unhealty, such as drinking alcohol, can lead to psychological symptoms that worsen a person’s anxiety and lead to further isolation. It’s strongly recommended that instead of doing so, the healthy options are therapy, exercising regularly, eating well, doing things that bring joy.

Don’t hide from your fears – avoiding to engage in social situations by being on the phone is a go-to for people with social anxiety. Although it may seem scary at first, it is far better to face social anxiety face-on, through gradual exposure to social situations. Start small, with limited interactions, controlled, like small talk at the store or going out with just one person that you haven’t met before and you tell them that you won’t be out for too long.

Identify your triggers – an important step is learning the situations that trigger your anxiety: meeting new people, public speaking, presenting a project etc. Also, trying to remember the moment when it first happened will give you the oportunity to re-analyze the situation. You start realizing what the external factors were (they way the others behaved, how they reacted) and thus your wound begins to heal with tools that weren’t available to you in childhood or adolescence.

Do something nice for someone – doing something nice for someone else is a good way to take the edge off being in a social situation. It is a method to distract yourself from all worries and negative thoughts and to improve your self-esteem. The kindness that you show to someone else will have a good psyhological impact over your emotions and push those fears away.

The awareness of these dificulties and facing them gradually can help to regain control over emotions and start enjoying the experiences and oportunities in life.