Issues for International Students
is cultural adaptation?
Adaptation to a new culture
(sometimes referred to as “culture shock” ) has four stages. They are not fixed
and you may find yourself at different stages at once.
Honeymoon stage in the beginning, when you are excited by
the novelty of the situation and you know little of how things work in the
Disenchantment stage when you face the realities of the
Beginning resolution stage when you try new behaviors in
order to fit into the culture
Effective functioning stage when you becomes comfortable
in the new culture (Ryan & Twibell, 2000).
International students: some common concerns
Starting life all over again. Basic things that
people associate with familiarity, comfort, and routine, such as a place
to live and food, are unfamiliar and new to you. You may have problems
with eating, sleeping and other normal daily activities, especially
in the beginning (Ryan &
Financial problems. Living in a foreign country can be
really debilitating if the financial situation is inadequate (Sam, 2001).
You and your family may lack financial resources. Moreover, you may not
to work outside of campus and you do not qualify for loans and most
financial aid options available to domestic students.
Health. Health problems may impede your ability to
participate in learning activities and may augment feelings of loneliness,
frustration, and overall stress (Ryan & Twibell, 2000).
Safety. (Ryan & Twibell, 2000). Certain ethnic and
religious groups may feel particularly uneasy after the September 11
"Ambassador" role. You may feel like you are an informal
cultural representative of your country. This could be overwhelming, tiring
and sometimes frustrating, especially when what you say or do is attributed
members of your culture. Also, you may have to dissipate horror myths about
your country (Sam, 2001).
Adjusting to being a visible minority. This may be very
difficult, especially if you have identified yourself with the majority group
in your home country (Lewthwaite, 1997).
Separation from family and natural support system. You
naturally worry about the well-being of your family, relatives and friends.
You may express homesickness in a variety of ways, such as becoming sad
a lot, worrying, or denying the homesickness and keeping yourself busy (Komyia
& Eells, 2001). You may also be bothered by fear and guilt that you are
losing touch with your family and home culture (Lewthwaite, 1997).
Social isolation and difficulty establishing friendships with Americans. You
may find yourself making friends mostly with other students from your
country or with other foreigners. One thing you may want to consider is
the fact that international students who make satisfactory contacts with
people seem to be more satisfied with their academic experience and overall
adaptation (Sam, 2001).
Reluctance to participate in class discussions due to lack of confidence
in English ability. Small group seminars may be particularly
anxiety-provoking for you; you may think that you cannot contribute
to the group and, as a result, you may feel judged by your American
peers. Also, you may feel uncomfortable asking questions in class,
questioning or interrupting the professor is not acceptable (Lewthwaite,
Pressure to have excellent academic performance. You may
have to meet the expectations of family members and/or financial institutions.
Very often, outstanding GPA is the only way for you to get financial help from
the University; as a result, your fear of failure may become even more intense
Stereotyping and discrimination. You may come across
beliefs that international students lack English and academic/teaching
abilities, that they are not culturally and socially adjusted, that they
lonely, nervous, and frightened. International students sometimes are
seen as competitors for scare financial and educational resources and as
illegitimately displace American students ( Spencer-Rodgers, 2001; Sam,
2001). You may find that some people actively discriminate against you
and physical discomfort. You may feel sad, anxious, frustrated,
lonely, misunderstood, stressed out, homesick. Also, you may have psychosomatic
symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, general fatigue, irregularity.
These negatively toned emotions and symptoms may limit your activities
adaptation The stress may reach crisis levels, especially in the first
six months of your stay in the US (Komyia & Eells, 2001; Ryan & Twibell,
Being misunderstood. One of the things that may make you
feel particularly lonely and misunderstood is the fact that, at times, it may
be difficult for American students, faculty and staff members on campus to
take into account the adjustment demands and pressures you are dealing with
international students can do
Remind yourself that it takes time to adjust to a new situation.
Also, if you are somewhat older than most college students, take it easy and
give yourself extra time (Sam, 2001).
Remember your strengths. Studies have shown that your
American classmates, professors, and college staff usually
are aware of and respect your strengths. (Spencer-Rodgers, 2001). International
learning about a new culture and trying new things
determined to learn and succeed and are expending
considerable financial resources and personal efforts in order to obtain
high-quality education in a foreign country
having the ability to speak multiple languages
performing equally or better than American college
students despite language and cultural barriers.
open-minded and world-minded (Spencer-Rodgers,
2001: Ryan & Twibell,
Try to be realistic about your English ability. Keep in
mind that you have passed TOEFEL and maybe other English exams
prior to coming to the US. If you think that you need to learn more conversational
and social manners (turn-taking rules, using expressions such
as “Thank you” and “I will appreciate it”),
you may try to expose yourself to more social situations such
as going to sport events and parties. Watching TV is a good
(although passive) way of acquiring such knowledge.
Take risks and speak in class in order to overcome the
nervousness. Start with small steps, such as asking the professor questions
after class or asking short and well-defined questions in class. Once your
nervousness diminishes, you can take bigger risks. The more you speak up, the
easier it will get. Also, it is likely that you will receive complements and
attention from others that will make you even more comfortable.
Reach out to American students and try to make them more aware of your
culture. You may bring a traditional dish
to class or wear traditional clothing. The more familiar
they are with
comfortable they will be with you. Also, this way you can
keep more in touch with your own culture. Accept friendly
American classmates and acquaintances.
Talk to other international students. There are several
organizations of international and culturally diverse students on WSU
campus. Mentoring a new international student can be very rewarding.
Keep in touch with family and relatives through e-mail, chat, and phone.
Take care of your health. Do not hesitate to use your
health insurance and seek medical assistance on campus at any time you perceive
something is not going well. Also, try to eat healthy and, if possible,
incorporate some physical activities into your daily routine. You can use the
free gym and swimming pool on campus, participate in sports, run or just walk
on campus. Studies have shown that, as a result of physical exercise, our
brains produce chemicals that make us feel more energetic and satisfied.
Keep a journal. Putting your thoughts down may help you
unload after a stressful or even highly successful day.
Moreover, the journal is private.
Try to build some fun activities into your busy daily schedule:
a hobby that you have had in your home country or a new
thing that you have been enjoying in the US.
Share your concerns with people you trust on campus, such
as academic advisors or advisors at the Office of International
Students. It is very important for your cultural adaptation that you
practical things and cultural issues.
Consider counseling. In many cultures, talking to a
stranger about one’s problems may not be appropriate. It is understandable that
if counseling is not popular in your home country, you would prefer to resort
to alternative resources such as family members, friends, professors, religious
leaders. However, if you decide to seek counseling on campus, you can talk to
your counselor and negotiate what and how much you will do in the counseling
room so that you respect the values of your own culture and, at the same time,
benefit from the counseling. Also, it is important to keep in mind that
the University counseling center is the only place on campus where
confidentiality is guaranteed.
Komiya, N. & Eells, G. (2001). Predictors of attitudes
toward seeking counseling among international students. Journal of
College Counseling, 4,
Lewthwaite, M. (1997). A study of international students’
perspectives on cross-cultural adaptation. International
Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 19, 167-185.
Redmond, M. (2000). Cultural distance as a mediating factor
between stress and intercultural communication competence. International
Journal of Intercultural Relations,
Ryan, M. & Twibell, R. (2000). Concerns, values, stress,
coping, health and educational outcomes of college students who studied abroad.
International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 409-435.
Sam, D. (2001). Satisfaction with life among international
students: An exploratory study. Social Indicators Research, 53, 315-337.
Spencer-Rodgers, J. (2001). Consensual and individual
stereotypic beliefs about international students among American host nationals.
International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 25, 639-657.
These materials were
compiled and prepared by Mila Velinova