What is culture shock?
Culture shock is the emotional disorientation you experience when you’re adjusting to living in a different culture. The “emotional rollercoaster” of feelings you experience typically follows distinct phases leading to eventual acclimation within that culture. However, every person’s experience of culture shock is different, and not everyone may experience all or even some of a particular phase.
Regardless, culture shock is a common and expected part of figuring out how to live in a new place.
Identifying your culture shock symptoms will help you gauge your adjustment process, minimize negative side effects, and help make sure you most out of your time abroad.
Stages of culture shock
experience of adjusting to a new place is different. You may experience all, or
just some, of the following common stages of culture shock:
- Honeymoon – excitement and fascination with the
new culture. Your first exposure to the new culture is overwhelming, exotic,
and very positive, as you seek out new discoveries and overlook minor problems.
- disappointment, disconnect, and
anxiety with the negotiation of differences between your old and new cultures. These
feelings may start to occur as you experience more of the culture’s daily life,
and encounter more strange or inconvenient differences between old and new
cultures, such as language barriers, differences in public hygiene, traffic
safety, and food accessibility and quality.
phase –understanding and a more balanced view of
the culture. This mindset shift leads to a more positive attitude and
confidence in dealing with the culture.
phase –feeling “at home” in
the culture. The person has learned to not only function well, but enjoys
living in the culture, perhaps preferring certain cultural traits of the new
culture to their own, adopting certain behaviours from the new culture, and
getting involved in new activities in the culture.
shock – experiencing a similar emotional
disorientation upon return to your old culture. This results from the process
of having transitioned into an acclimated state with a new culture, and is
oftentimes more surprising, and may even be more difficult to deal with, than
the original culture shock.
Signs and Symptoms
of the common signs and symptoms of culture shock include:
from people who are different from you
interest in your new environment
of anxiety, anger, and/or homesickness
intense feeling of loyalty to own culture
change in eating habits
need for excessive sleep
of ability to work or study effectively
sick a lot
Adjusting to Rice
the moment you touched foot on Rice campus to start your first year, and tons
of people were shouting your name and scrambling to help you unload your bags,
you could probably tell that Rice is pretty unique.
you’re just getting started! Rice has a rich culture of traditions and history. Sometimes, it may feel intimidating to try to understand, or become a part of it. Don’t worry! With time, Rice will feel like home.
Common Adjustment Issues
of the unique facets of Rice that may take some getting used to include:
- Diversity – Rice is a very diverse school. If you
come from a completely different ethnic, cultural, or socioeconomic background,
you may not be used to the wide variety and range of perspectives and
backgrounds of your peers, both intellectually and culturally
- Residential college system – Rice’s residential college system vastly
contributes to the vibrant atmosphere of student service, development, and
leadership. Not only is the residential college system unique, each individual
residential college is as well. You may find yourself feeling a little
overwhelmed by your college’s lively web of culture, history, and traditions.
Just be patient: over time, your institutional memory will grow exponentially,
and you’ll find yourself fluidly incorporating your savvy into everyday
conversation. And, after all, you may very well influence that memory – by
contributing to its current personality and culture.
- Size – for some people, Rice is about the size (or maybe even
smaller! than their high school), while for others, Rice may seem huge. You may
feel overwhelmed by the number of people you don’t know, the sheer number of
people with whom you interact or pass by on a daily basis, or you may be used
- New city – Houston, like Rice, comes in its own
flavor. It may take time to adjust to living surrounded by the goings-on of one
of the nation’s largest, most diverse cities. Don’t be afraid to get out and explore!
Houston offers some true cultural gems that are yours for the discovering, if
you take the time and effort to check out the exciting opportunities outside
- Academic challenges –If you’re here, you’re probably used to
being the top of your class and excelling in everything you do…but then again,
so is everyone else here! Instead of being intimidated, embrace the
intellectually stimulating environment. Even though everyone here is
academically motivated and smart, Rice has a reputation for not being a
cutthroat, competitive atmosphere. Seek opportunities to intellectually engage
and collaborate with your peers, in and outside of the classroom.
- Student opportunities for involvement - with
the myriad of opportunities to get involved - from academic, campus-wide,
extracurricular, and research, not to mention the chance to get involved at
your college – you may feel overwhelmed with all of the options. So, pause. Take a breath. Consider what
passions you want to pursue, and how you want to contribute to life at Rice.
Don’t be afraid to ask around and get other people’s perspectives on
activities. Also, don’t be afraid to try something new! You never know what
challenging, insightful new experiences you may encounter.
- Rice culture – like assimilating into any new
environment, Rice’s multifaceted, vibrant campus life may also take some
getting used to, from just figuring out the way things work to the
expectations, norms, and different kinds of people with whom you’ll find
yourself living, working, and interacting on a daily basis. Just remember to be
yourself. We like you the way you are. And get ready for the adventure!
Tips for Adjusting to Rice
Here are some tips for ways to get to
- Actually read your O-Week book – your O-Week book is a lovingly, carefully
crafted compilation of advice, resources, and information about everything
relevant to you while you’re here. Use it.
- Talk with your O-Week advisors – they’re great resources for advice on
everything from academics to friends, since they’ve been through it before, and
they care about how you’re doing.
- Get Involved – in whatever you’re interested in! Try new
things! Check out these websites for an aggregate of cool opportunities for you
to explore, from clubs to government, groups to volunteering: Student Association website, Student Activities website
- Get to know the campus – familiarize yourself with the campus,
especially before your classes start. Find where your classes are on the campus
map, and walk to them the day before. Use Rice’ s online map to find them. Recognize where the RUPD
blue safety lights are along your typical routes in case of an emergency. Know the location of a couple of familiar
landmarks that would reorient you if you ever get lost– a couple of good ones
include Willy’s Statue, in the academic quad, and the Brochstein Pavilion,
located in the central quad.
- Eat in a different servery – each servery on campus features a variety
of delicious options as well as a different atmosphere and group of people to eat with. In fact, each servery features one specialty that no other
servery offers – such as wood oven baked pizza, and crepes.
- Pick up something you love – if you participated in an activity in
highschool that you enjoyed, chances are Rice offers it too. So, keep it up! Continuing
an activity is not only a fun way to get involved, but also a great way to meet
people who share a similar interest. From sports to languages to theatre to
everything in between, Rice offers over 300 student-run clubs that you can get
involved in. To find out more, check out the Student Activities website, http://studentactivities.rice.edu.
Can’t find it? Start it!
- Try something new – Rice abounds with opportunities for you
to challenge yourself. Don’t hesitate to dive into new activities. With all the
different ways to get involved, it’s easy to maintain a balance of the old and
new. Take advantage of the freedom you have in choosing optional courses within
your major as well as in the distribution credits, as well as your LPAPs.
- Get outside the hedges – Houston brims with art, entertainment,
food, cultural events, and fun beyond the hedges, and Rice gives students the
access to explore the city’s cultural and entertainment offerings. Use your Q
card and the METROrail to navigate off campus events. Check out all of the
major discounts that Rice students get through Hedgehopper card and Passport to
Houston program. For more info, check out the Passport to Houston website, http://passport.rice.edu.
- Be patient – becoming familiar and comfortable with
Rice, and your new home, takes time.
- Talk to someone – if you’re discouraged by your lack of
progress, or feel homesick, lonely, or otherwise not completely in sync with everything,
don’t hesitate to talk to someone about it, like a college master, RA, RHA,
close friend, or someone from the Counseling Center. We want you to feel at
home here, and we want to make sure you feel that you have the support and
resources to navigate your new environment.
“Adjustments and Culture Shock.” Study Abroad Student Handbook. The Center for Global Education. http://www.studentsabroad.com/cultureshock.html
Schneider, Katherine. “Cultural Difference: International Students Coping with Culture Shock” University of Winsconsin Eua-Claire Counseling Services. http://www.uwec.edu/counsel/pubs/shock.htm
“Stages of Culture Shock.” Kwintessential. http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/cultural-services/articles/cultureshock-stages.html