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Tips for Cultural Adjustment

Culture Shock - Parent Awareness

Culture is commonly defined as the collection of learned and shared values, beliefs, and behavior of a group of people, usually within the same geographic region. When your student arrives at the program site, they will quickly observe differences between their own culture and that of the host country. While initially exciting, the differences and lack of familiarity might cause your student to experience some anxiety or culture shock. It is important to recognize that culture shock is a normal part of the cultural adjustment process and most students will experience it to some degree.

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Reverse Culture Shock - Tips for Parents

  • Keep in mind that reverse culture shock is a reality for many study abroad participants. Learn to identify its symptoms in order to provide support to your son/daughter.
  • Know that your student may return home a very different person from when he/she left home. As you did not share in your child’s experience firsthand, it may be difficult to know what it has meant to them, how they may have changed, and what struggles they may be facing since returning home.
  • Be mindful of your expectations. It is common to expect them be the same person they were before they left: be careful not to push them back into old roles or relationships and instead allow them time to adjust and find who they are becoming.
  • Inform your student of events that have occurred in their family and in the community while they have been away. Even if they have heard about these occurrences, the impact at home may not have been noticeable.
  • Take care not to criticize your son/daughter for what you perceive as odd patterns of behavior, speech, or new attitudes.
  • Allow your student to tell his/her stories, show pictures, and express his/her opinions. Listen and try to understand what your student’s study abroad experience has meant to them. Match your student’s excitement as they share to validate their feelings.
  • Recognize that all returnees feel some sense of loss. Although it may seem surprising to you, students often mourn for what they have left behind, including friends, exciting surroundings, the feeling of being unique, or having special privileges.
  • Encourage the returnees to stay in touch with personal and professional contacts in the country(ies) where he/she studied abroad. Encourage your student to contact the USAC Central Office or their home university's study abroad office to learn other ways of dealing with reverse culture shock.
  • Know that your student may make some critical comparisons of culture and lifestyle. It is best to remain neutral. In this way you may be able to gain some insight into how their worldview has changed. Their remarks should not be taken personally.
  • If you know of someone who has gone through a study abroad experience and the returnee experience, have your student speak with this person. It can help them be able to talk to someone who has gone through a similar experience.

Studying abroad may truly change your student's life. Some of its proven benefits include increased self-confidence and independence, higher maturity level, more interest in academics, openness to diversity and differences in others, and many, many more.

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