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Surviving Culture Shock in the US: The Ultimate Guide for Foreign Students!


First things first, feeling lost or anxious in a new place is okay, and you’re incredibly brave for being here. We hear you and feel you! Just know that there are caring hands to guide you whenever you need them.

So, what do we call this feeling scientifically or by the books? Culture Shock experiences.

A study published in the Journal of International Students found that 90% of international students experience some level of culture shock during their education in the United States.

Given that culture is so common, there are things you should know, be prepared for, keep in check, communicate, and get immediate help if needed.

This blog is for all the courageous students in the US suffering culture shock in silence.

What Does Culture Shock Mean

Do you remember how excited you felt thinking about studying in the US? Goosebumps, right?
Big cities, freedom, cars, food, lavish fast culture, diversity, and whatnot!

Now think of it this way, all the things that thrilled you about the US may be driving you anxious and lost bit by bit. And that is called Culture Shock.

It is defined as disorientation, confusion, and anxiousness in humans transitioning to a new environment. We’ll admit culture shock is overwhelming and challenging (Only if unaddressed, let’s make that clear). However, it is easy to tackle with guidance.

Culture Shock Examples

Culture shock is a different experience for everybody. Not all experiences are alike or exact. For instance, some may find it challenging to communicate. It’s not that you are not good at English, but the inferiority gets you sometimes (And hey, that’s okay too).

Some get too afraid to ask even the simple things (In the sense that they may say it wrong).

Pizzas for breakfast are not everybody’s cup of tea. Food can make you so distant, and it’s no joke.

Whereas some battle with taking on new responsibilities that come with staying independent.

Common Symptoms of Culture Shock

Here we provide some common symptoms of culture shock you might be experiencing in the US.

These examples are for your awareness. If any or some or all symptoms match your experience, we advise you to speak to the relevant experts and get the necessary help immediately.

  • Feelings of Isolation
  • Language Difficulties
  • Confusion and Disorientation
  • Homesickness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Change in Eating Habits
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of Confidence

Well, we want to go further and explain in detail how such symptoms progress and cause big trouble.


Feeling Gloomy

Sadness is a healthy psychological reaction to separation. You only cry for the people you love the most (It would be wrong if you didn’t, pun intended :). However, it is problematic when the levels of sadness don’t subside or are more constant.

It could happen if you heavily depended on someone in your family before coming to the US.

And now that your support system is far away and you are on your own, you feel the discomfort. Note that this happens to everyone at the start.


Jet lag, overflowing emotions, nervousness, and other unexplainable feelings may not let you sleep. The irony is, if you don’t sleep 6 – 8 hours a day stress levels may go up and up. It’s a never-ending loop you may fall into if not controlled.

We can help you with some fascinating and realistic tips. Vlog your experiences on YouTube, and share them with the world (If you are comfortable). If you are the shy kind, journal your emotions. Music, reading, and some Netflixing never hurt.


In the US, you find the most opinionated people. Their opinions may not align with yours. You’ll experience different behaviors that may anger you. It is not uncommon that you’ll find the locals rude, unfriendly, and unwelcoming at times. You can consider these as a few more culture shock examples.

And think of it this way, you’ll have to live with this throughout your journey in the US. Wouldn’t it be much better if you gave it some time to learn the culture, let this reality sink in, and enjoy it in peace? It will be the best part of your adventure!

Identity Challenges in the US

Learning and immersing yourself into the US culture is essential, but not to the extent you forget yours. Being grounded in our roots is potent as that is who we are.

If you are someone close to your notice of this kind of change in you, we say it’s high time you take action.

It’s advisable to communicate it with the ones experiencing it and stay in touch with your family.

Indulge in your traditions and customs from time to time. Celebrate your festivals so that you enjoy the experience 🙂

Missing Home

Perhaps one of the biggest culture shock experiences is missing your family, home, and vibe. It’s emotionally draining to stay away from all the relations that matter more than anything to you.

But, hey, we have FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger, and so much more to keep us connected.

We know the home is afar, but it’s no 1980s anymore, right? Food, food can make you feel at home. You can always ship non-perishable food to the US from your country.

What Are the Different Phases of Culture Shock?

In 1954, a Canadian anthropologist named Kalervo Oberg introduced the concept of “culture shock.”

Let’s explore its four distinct phases and how each can affect the students:

The Honeymoon Phase

This is a very brief period where you feel all excited about the new place. The butterflies keep you excited for a new day. In this phase, you like exploring the place, the food, the people, and the little things that indeed make you happy.

The honeymoon phase may last anywhere from 2 weeks to a good 2 months. We say, enjoy it as much as possible, and may this never fade away for you.

The Crisis Phase

In this phase, you see things with a microscope in your eyes and head. All the over-pouring emotions take place here. From homesickness to irritation, you’ll experience a bit of every overwhelming feeling in the crisis phase.

Problems in understanding the language, adjusting to the food, and environment, and getting into the routine may seem like big tasks.

However, this phase is brief if you show maturity in seeking help. Just know that all these emotions are justified; the way out is to take expert guidance.

The Recovery Phase

This phase is the beginning of the end of the struggle. You’ll eventually understand the surroundings, campus, culture, language, behaviors, and routines.

Here you’ll make efforts to fit it. You’ll start feeling confident around other students and locals. In simple words, you’ll find the balance and not be sad as you were.

You shall pass this quickly if you communicate your emotions, and constantly stay in touch with your family and experts supporting you.

It is advisable to:

Vlog or journal your emotions to feel renewed and refreshed in your head.

The Adjustment Phase

It’s about time you feel at home again (A new one though 🙂 No pressures, no more sad video calls or vlogs. In this phase, you’ll completely like everything normal.

In this phase or after, students make new friends, hangouts and even start working comfortably.

Here, you’ll feel a sense of belonging in the community. Day after day, you’ll give more confidence and strength to your family back home that you are doing well.


Situations That Trigger Culture Shocks:

Classroom Culture Shock

There’s so much pressure to deal with culture shock in the classroom as your confidence is associated with grades. Here’s are something that can trigger your culture shock so you can be prepared:

  • Nervous about your ability to communicate in English (But you need to ask an important question or doubt)
  • Discussing your grade in the class (Given that you are struggling to communicate this can be overwhelmingly stressful)
  • Be part of a discussion-based classroom (Where all you have experienced is a lecture-based classroom in your home country)

Social Culture Shock

Some small social situations can bother your inner confidence:

  • Don’t know how much to tip
  • When you surround yourself with a supermarket
  • occasional embarrassing mistakes at restaurants (Especially when you are with your friends)

Professional Culture Shock

In all seriousness, workplace culture shock is big-time stress. You get self-conscious about little things. Here are some that might trigger the culture shock in you:

  • Constant communicating (In English) over email
  • Dress code

How Can I Deal With Culture Shock?

We are sure, with these simple steps and tips you’ll feel happier and more confident:

  • Know that it’s common, and can be tackled with guidance
  • In case you feel sad and need a distraction sign up for fun activities like sports, music, dance, art, theater, or more
  • Keep it positive by reflecting on the efforts you have made to make it to the US
  • Take on new experiences, explore, eat, laugh, and make friends
  • Take a break from the loneliness (And of course, do the fun things 🙂
  • Write down your goals and stick the quotes that motivate you on the walls as big as possible

When to Ask for Help?

Openly speaking, it is too risky to let the symptoms persist as one can easily get into the wrong things (Drugs and alcohol)

  • If you feel your emotions and behavior are nowhere in control make a call before it’s too late
  • If you see a friend going through the above, support them by getting them in touch with the experts
  • You can go: Shorelight student advisors, international student services departments, peer mentors, and campus mental health workers


In conclusion, studying abroad is an exciting but challenging journey, often accompanied by culture shock. This natural response to a new environment can manifest in various ways, including homesickness, language difficulties, and fatigue.

However, understanding the phases of culture shock, from the initial excitement to the eventual adjustment, can make this transition smoother. All the tips mentioned above can help pass the rough phase faster.

Seeking help when needed is essential, and University Hub stands as a reliable consultancy that genuinely cares for students’ physical and mental well-being. Their support and counseling services ensure a smoother journey for international students. Book a free consultation here.


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