International Student Safety

Culture Shock and Relationship Safety

Culture (the how and why we do what we do) provides:

  • Routine which helps us to feel grounded (feeling stable)
  • Comfort which helps us to feel safe
  • Meaning which underpins everything – it is evidence that the values which we have learnt are “right and correct”
  • Unspoken and sometimes unconscious cues to redirect us when we feel disconnected

The Reality:

Moving to a new country comes with a lot of excitement for possibilities but it also comes with a lot of
stressors. It can be very physically and mentally exhausting:

  • Sometimes it means a full immersion of cultural values and meanings.
    • New everything! – living with and among strangers in a strange place, eating new food and sometimes trying to communicate using a new language.
  • Not understanding the cultures (the “how” and “why”) of the new University environment and/or the new country.
  • Feeling isolated or that you don’t belong.
  • Parental/Family expectations – academic success! making our sacrifice worth it!
  • Personal expectations – academic success! popularity! perfection! making my parents proud!

How we sometimes try to get back to safety (feeling comfortable):

  • Re-establishing past relationships and/or routines even if they were not healthy or good for us.
  • Becoming rigid in our expectations of others.
  • Placing higher value on what is familiar and decreasing the value of the unfamiliar.
  • Giving up on trying to fit in or to adjust to the changes – refusing to take the risk of doing something differently.
  • Putting pressure on our relationships and friendships to constantly “prove” that they really do love and care for us.

The dangers of not adjusting to culture change:

There is a greater likelihood of:

  • Creating a self-fulling prophecy of “failure” in all the important expectations you hold of yourself and others
  • Creating more distance and self-exclusion from peer groups
  • Developing unhealthy relationships
  • Developing or exacerbating mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Having negative interactions with the criminal justice system (different expectations and values)

What can you do if you are struggling with culture shock or culture change?

Reach out to someone from the Center for International Experience or Health and Wellness or contact a crisis Line e.g. Kids Help Phone (up to 25 years old) to talk about what’s happening for you, to get support and help to decide what you want to do.