Congratulations! You are about to embark on an amazing voyage to your dream study destination. From carefully reviewing your documents to packing your belongings, you have so much to prepare, but it’s all so exciting. Once you have done the due diligence pertaining to the travel paraphernalia, take some time off to prepare yourself for the great change – the culture shift.
Are you ready to be surprised, overwhelmed, and shocked? Relax. Each one of us goes through these phases on finding ourselves in a new and unfamiliar environment. The best part will be when you’ll start understanding, appreciating, and eventually accepting the changes around you. Here are some tips to help you adjust to the cultural changes you’ll face when studying abroad.
Keep an open mind, be positive
As you move to a different country, everything appears outlandish – from the language to the food. You may find people with an outlook that is poles apart from your beliefs. Remember, each country has its unique culture, conventions, and lifestyle that together influence people’s consciousness. Hence, culture is a relative idea.
Just as you have come to a foreign country for education, consider the novelty of the place as an integral part of your educational journey. Approach whatever you encounter like a textbook. Try to learn and understand the difference, the rationale behind all that you see and hear or even feel. This is a rare opportunity to know a culture inside-out. Make your best effort to extract as much information and insight you can about their society and values. Be enthusiastic and positive in your interaction, and you’ll never have a dull moment.
On your study-abroad stay in the country, you’ll settle in their ways of life without much difficulty if you learn their ways. As much as you may read about the place and people, or hear from someone who’s been there, nothing comes close to witnessing everything live with your own eyes. As Confucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
You must observe what kind of verbal and non-verbal modes of communication they use. Just as they’ll not appreciate a caricature of their behavioural and societal norms, they’ll readily accept someone who can emulate their style of interaction and communication with due respect and earnestness. Hence, do not plunge head-on, but take your time. See through everything, ask locals, and over time, gather enough understanding of their communication cues so as not to be misunderstood. Your effort will not be in vain, but will rather win you some great friends.
Show curiosity and ask questions
Consider a foreigner asking you about your country and culture with eagerness. You’ll love to talk about your heritage and traditions, and at the same time strike an instant bond with the person. Similarly, if you show curiosity and inquire about the place, customs, and the practices, the locals will be glad to share with you what they take pride in, or what is indispensable to their culture. Not only will you collect useful information, but you’ll feel a lot more familiar and at home.
Furthermore, in a new country, even the basic style of living could be different. You might have to seek help to go about your chores. Do not hesitate to ask your peers or neighbours how they get things done. However, language could be a roadblock, even if it’s English, because native speakers can use many dialects and have their own lingo. Hence, it’s OK to rephrase and repeat yourself to understand and clarify.
Travel and explore
One of the most effective means of familiarising yourself with a place is by travelling around. Grab this opportunity to visit iconic places, landmarks, local bazaars, and the countryside. Comb through the neighbouring areas and explore the unique characteristics of the land and the people. Though you’ll be having a lot of educational excursions, you can tour the place on your own. Travelling lends you the chance to learn about the history and geography, interact and converse with the locals, and immerse in the culture.
Join a hobby class, or participate in physical activities
Monotony is a troublemaker. To avoid falling into a monotonous routine, deviate your mind with activities where you get to interact with others. You can join clubs based on your interest, hobby classes, or whichever physical activity interests you. Attending such classes beyond regular college is a way of keeping yourself engaged and motivated. It’s a strategy to ward off the feelings of loneliness and homesickness.
Talk to other international students/advisors
During the first few months, you’ll probably have to cope with a lot of issues pertaining to cultural differences. Lighten yourself by discussing your problems with other international students, and what you are doing to resolve them. Don’t worry. They too will be going through the same difficult patch, facing similar problems, and will be quite willing to share their ways of dealing with the problems. Together, think of ways to overcome the challenges. However, you can also approach your college counsellor or international student advisor to get professional guidance.
Fall back on your support system when stressed out. Connect to your family and friends to keep them in the loop. Your parents will feel more at ease if you share your problems and they can guide you through them. Friends back home will provide you with doses of enthusiasm, laughter, and the comfort of the good old days. Keeping in touch with home will make things a lot easier for you, especially in the initial phase.
To quote Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, “Culture is the widening of the mind and the spirit.” Studying abroad transfers you to an arena with infinite possibilities for expanding your vision. This is the base-camp of life, where you get trained to adjust to any situation in any part of the world, learn to seek unity in diversity, and evolve as the future global citizen, ready to transcend boundaries and transform lives.