Living in a foreign culture is an experience we often look forward to with excitement and enthusiasm. However, many of us are often unprepared for the extent of the cultural dissimilarity we encounter. Culture shock is a very real phenomenon and all international students entering a foreign culture are affected by it in some way.
The automatic responses you used in China may not be applicable in New Zealand. It is common for international students to experience feelings of euphoria upon arriving in New Zealand, often called the honeymoon period. Everything appears new and exciting. However upon settling into the routine of study people may experience feelings of frustration, loneliness or uneasiness. Remember that feelings of frustration or uneasiness are a natural part of adapting to a new culture.
Sometimes you may feel as if you lack direction, not knowing what to do or how to do things in New Zealand, and not knowing what is appropriate and inappropriate. Often the way that you lived or behaved before is not accepted or considered normal in the new place.
Here are some other possible symptoms of culture shock you may experience:
· You may feel isolated or frustrated
· You may become homesick
· You may experience anger or hostility toward your new home
· You may become overly dependent upon other Chinese students
· You may doubt your decision to come to New Zealand
You may experience one or more of these symptoms, and different people will experience them in varying degrees of intensity. It is important for you to realise that you will probably experience culture shock before you begin your cultural adaptation, and that this is normal.
Ways to cope with culture shock
Below are some ways that you might want to try to combat culture shock.
· Remember that experiencing culture shock is a normal part of the adaptation process.
· Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, adapting will take time. Be patient.
· Keep a journal, it can really show you how you’re doing if you read what you wrote when you first arrived and compare it to several months later.
· Talk to someone who has been through the cultural adaptation process. This person can probably give you a positive perspective on the experience you are having.
· Be open-minded and try to remember that New Zealand is a different country to China. People will behave in ways that may seem to you odd or even rude, but you must try to avoid judging New Zealanders by Chinese cultural standards.
· Keep yourself busy and active; keep your mind occupied.
· Avoid the temptation to spend all your time with other Chinese students.
· Maintain contact with other Chinese students. This will give you a feeling of belonging and you will reduce your feelings of loneliness and alienation.
· Don’t forget about all the good things about the experience of living in New Zealand.
· Exercise or develop a hobby.
· Establish simple goals and evaluate your progress.
· Try to get involved in activities outside your studies, perhaps with other international students or peoples in New Zealand.
Once you begin to understand New Zealand culture you will not feel as lost and will begin to gain a sense of direction. You will realise that the New Zealand culture, like any culture, has positive and negative aspects. Remember that there is always someone or some service available to help you.
Coping with homesickness
Most people have felt homesick (when you miss family and friends at home) at some time. Beginning life and study in a new country can generate both excitement and anxiety about the move, the study, and meeting new people. The most common times to feel homesick are several weeks before leaving home, or in the first few days or weeks of arriving. Or you might initially be feeling okay, only to find yourself feeling homesick later on, perhaps around a birthday, or at the start of your second year.
Away from home you may find it more difficult to cope with problems that may arise. Feeling homesick is normal. Here are a few suggestions that may help you:
· Talk to someone you trust about it. If you haven’t made friends here, then try talking to a teacher, tutor, nurse, chaplain or counsellor at your education provider
· Remember that other people will have similar feelings, even though you think they may be doing fine
· Keep in regular contact with family and friends at home; email, phone or write letters (refer to ‘Keeping in Touch with Home’ on p. 23 for details on how to phone, email and post). Don’t be afraid to tell them how you’re really feeling and of any problems. Let them know you want to hear from them
· Remember to get plenty of sleep and to eat good food
· Give yourself enough time to adjust, you don’t have to get everything right straight away. Learn from your mistakes
· You don’t have to rush into making major decisions, for example about staying or leaving
· Be realistic about what to expect from student life and from yourself. Seek new opportunities. Get involved in an activity you enjoy or try new ones in your spare time, when you're not studying. At the start of the academic year many new people will be joining clubs and groups - and you are unlikely to be the only new person
· If you are finding study too hard, talk to your teacher, advisor or the staff at Student Learning Support (universities and polytechnics). Can you improve your study or time management skills?
· Discover and become familiar with your neighbourhood or town
· Write a diary to record your experiences and thoughts
· Try something new or involve yourself in some activity. Don't wait for feelings of homesickness to disappear automatically. Problems can show up later as headaches, tiredness, illness, or lack of motivation. If you stop being able to do normal social and academic things, get professional help from your doctor or the counselling service at your education provider.