Adjusting to Change — Cultural Adjustment
“Welcome to University of Indianapolis, and Indianapolis, Indiana”
Every year, University of Indianapolis welcomes many undergraduate and graduate students who are from different areas of the state, country or world. Moving to an urban mid-western city can be an adjustment for many students depending on their cultural, social and personal backgrounds.
What is cultural adjustment?
For many students, arriving in a new place can be both exciting and anxiety-producing. This may be a common reaction for any student moving to a new community. Special challenges face students who are also moving to a new and possibly radically different culture.
What is cultural shock?
Most students will experience a challenging period of adjustment after moving to a new culture or place. The language, weather, geography, food and ways of relating to others may seem strange and even inferior to those you are accustomed to. Others will go through a "honeymoon period" where they feel everything is great, almost perfect. They may begin to experience symptoms of culture shock later. It is important to realize that the signs of culture shock are normal for students in a new place, regardless of when they occur.
Cultural Shock: Signs and Symptoms
- Extreme homesickness
- Feeling sick much of the time
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Excessive cleanliness/feeling things are "dirty"
- Upset stomach
- An intense loyalty to your own culture
- A dislike or annoyance with the new culture
- Uncontrollable crying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased pain with minor injuries
- Sleep problems
When should you consider counseling?
- When you are experiencing many of the signs and symptoms noted above, and they are not improving;
- When you are feeling generally overwhelmed and need help sorting things out
- If you have a history of anxiety, depression or stress and it seems to be recurring as you are trying to adjust to a new culture
Important to remember: Counseling is a confidential process. Your counselor will not release any information about you to anyone, except as required by law when protecting human life is at stake.
- Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. Many times when pressures become great, students forget to maintain good health and wellness by taking care of their bodies. During an initial move or big change, it is especially important to take care of basic needs.
- Stay active. It is equally important to continue to remain active during times of increased stress. Remember to get out of your residence regularly by going on walks, visiting places around town, and attending campus events of interest.
- Take a minute to appreciate accomplishments. It is important to realize what is going well and all that you have accomplished during this move. Reflect on the strength that is required to make such a move.
- Create friendships that are new. Meeting new people and learning about the people who live in the new place that you have moved to are important steps in the acculturation process. Perhaps you could join a conversation club to better learn English, meet others from the area, or just make new friendships that will help ease the transition to a new place.
- Avoid using alcohol and illicit drugs as a way to self-medicate. When things become challenging and difficult, some people may feel that the situation is too emotionally stressful for them and will turn to drinking or drugs to provide some relief from the difficulty. In actuality, alcohol and drug use can add to your problems. If overwhelming feelings occur, try different forms of coping rather than "self-medication" to help ease stressful feelings.
Ways to cope with acculturation
- Seek out other students of your same cultural and ethnic background.
- Share special food preparations and traditions from your home country with others.
- At University of Indianapolis there are resources and clubs where you can share experiences with others who may be going through similar situations.
- Talk about what you are experiencing. It can be helpful to find someone with whom you can share reactions and experiences. Reactions might include worries, sadness, as well as joy and positive experiences. Often friends and family can offer good advice and support during a difficult time. Telephone and email offer the possibility of instant comfort and support from someone who cares about you.
- Be patient. Even though it may seem that you are the only one dealing with such a problem, you are not alone. There are many students who struggle with acculturation and adjustment when coming to a new place. This adjustment will take time and practice in order to feel comfortable; however, remember to seek help if problems build.
Can someone from the United States experience a period of cultural adjustment when coming to U of I?
Yes! Many new students may be from a more rural setting, a more diverse setting, or an environment that looks and feels very different from this one.
Just because you may be from the U.S. or from Indiana does not mean that your own cultural experiences will match the ones that you may encounter in Indianapolis. Cultural adjustment and culture shock can affect students of various backgrounds - international students as well as those from the United States.
Resources on Campus
There are many groups available for students to join such as the Muslim Student Association, African Student Association and various others. To find groups, log into the My UIndy page and click on the Groups icon. Groups will be listed under various headings (academic, common interest, cultural). Click on the group you are interested in and information will appear as to how to contact group members.