Some of the most exciting (and potentially nerve-wracking) periods of study abroad are the first few weeks. No matter where you study abroad, you’ll be greeted by new faces, smells, flavors, sounds, and likely a new language the minute you touch down in your host country. It’s a lot to take in! Now, couple that with a potential on-site quarantine, mask mandates, and social distancing guidelines, and you might feel more overwhelmed than anticipated when you arrive. Fear not, we know the struggle. Here are some of our top tips for integrating into your host culture — pandemic or not.
Go Easy On Yourself
One of the most important things to do when experiencing culture shock is to be patient with yourself. Culture shock is an unavoidable part of immersing in a new culture, and you’re not handling study abroad any worse than anybody else (no matter how smooth they make it seem on Instagram). Continuously remind yourself that the bumps in the road are all a necessary part of your journey. Besides, being pushed outside of your comfort zone is kind of the whole point of study abroad, isn’t it?
And don’t forget, the COVID-19 pandemic adds an extra hurdle to cultural immersion. From quarantining when you arrive to practicing a second language through masks, the measures taken to protect citizens and stop the spread will impact your integration. So, be patient and cut yourself a little bit of slack!
Use Your Quarantine Time Wisely
If you have to quarantine once you arrive at your destination, don’t look at it as a negative. Use the time to get acclimated to your new environment. In between orientation and your first few classes, become even more familiar with your host culture by:
- Researching your neighborhood and surrounding areas for restaurants, cafes, and cultural centers.
- Learning more about your host community by watching videos from past students and catching up on the USAC blog.
- Sampling the local cuisine via delivery or by cooking on your own.
- Practicing the language to get a jump-start on basic phrases you’ll need to make it through your first few weeks.
Establish a Routine
Whether at home or abroad, maintaining a routine is a great way to combat anxiety and make you feel more in control. If you’re able to keep your routine from home, and it works for you in your host city, great! Otherwise, focus on what does make sense for you as you integrate into your new home and keep it up! Be sure to include some self-care measures, exercise, and time to keep up on your coursework to avoid stress.
We also recommend integrating some COVID-friendly cultural activities into your days or weeks. While we understand how frustrating it can be trying to explore a new city among business closures, capacity regulations, and social distancing measures, there are tons of ways you can learn about and immerse in your host community safely.
Turn To USAC Staff And Students
If you’re dealing with culture shock, chances are that you are not alone. Your on-site staff members have seen everything (and they’ve likely experienced culture shock a time or two), and they’re trained to help students have a smooth transition, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice.
Additionally, it’s very likely that the other students in your cohort are feeling similar, so connect with them about it. If you’re quarantined, start a group chat or text chain. If you’re not, schedule some in-person friend dates to specifically talk about your immersion experiences. Knowing that others are going through it with you can help you feel less alone (and you can share your tips for combatting culture shock to help each other out!).
Conduct Some Self-Reflection
It might not feel like it now, but what you are experiencing is a good thing, and it is completely normal. Culture shock is a way of learning your place in a new culture, and it can transform you, taking you from an American on a vacation to someone actively immersing in a new culture. In order to embrace the opportunities for growth, start some self-reflection exercises early on. Journaling is a great way to get your feelings out and process your experience. Beyond culture shock, consider your goals for study abroad, check in on your physical and mental health, and reflect on your identity (it might change!).