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After the initial excitement of your arrival in the US, you may begin to feel some form of culture shock as your new life begins to settle down and you adapt to your new environment. Although the US and UK share a common language, subtle and not-so-subtle language and cultural differences between the two countries might cause you to feel a sense of dislocation or unease. Feelings of homesickness or a heightened sensitivity to minor bumps in the road that wouldn’t usually bother you are completely natural, so while some students may not experience culture shock, don’t worry if you do.
The key to dealing with culture shock is to remember that this is a natural process that accompanies being in a new country. For most students the heightened emotionality they feel fades as they become more accustomed to being in the US. The most important thing is to give yourself time to adjust to your new surroundings, remain positive and not become discouraged.
Try and volunteer with your university’s Study Abroad fairs and represent your country or UK school (if you are on a short-term exchange.) This allows you to channel your homesickness into something positive, helping US students with enthusiasm and knowledge about your home country.
To get a better idea of the stages of culture shock, including reverse culture shock that can occur when you return home, take a look at the W-Curve of Culture Shock diagram. While the W-Curve doesn’t apply to everybody, having a visual idea of the path culture shock generally takes will help you prepare for it, and allow you to help other students that are experiencing these stages.
The W-Curve applies to international students and first-year college students, so some American students will probably be going through the same thing. Alternatively, this model is also known as the ‘U-Curve.’ You can find out more information about culture shock from your international student advisor, and it should be covered at your orientation.
If you find that you need help in dealing with your homesickness, there are a number of resources on campus to help out. Engage in activities that you will enjoy which may distract you from homesickness. It is also a good idea to talk with your RA (Resident Advisor) or international student advisor. If at any point you are concerned that your feelings of homesickness are not subsiding or are symptomatic of a more serious mental health issue, immediately visit the campus health clinic or counselling centre. Students with a history of mental health issues may wish to disclose this to their international students office or study abroad office, which can advise on specific resources available to them on campus.
Getting involved with the international students office can help you make friends, visit local tourist attractions and plan day trips to nearby places of interest to help you get to know the local area. Sharing your pictures and experiences with friends and family back home will help ease your homesickness. Emailing your family and friends will help maintain a connection, along with social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter or Skype.
Also, be aware that you may experience “reverse culture shock” upon your return to the UK. You will most likely experience the same feelings you had during your first few weeks abroad as you realize that both you and your home country have changed while you were away. Eventually of course you will begin to integrate your overseas experiences into your home life and realize the impact of the experience abroad and the importance of being home. If you are concerned about reverse culture shock, here are some tips while you are abroad to ease re-entry anxiety: