Adjusting to life in a new country is an ongoing and gradual process. While no two people have the same experience, international students have found that there are some stages in the process that seem to be common international students who are studying in the U.S. for the first time.
1) Initial anticipation and excitement
When first arriving, most international students take a few weeks to settle in to their living arrangements in the Boston area. They spend time finding necessary services and amenities such as shops, transportation, laundry etc. In this process, students discover and explore differences and similarities between American culture and their home culture. Most students find that people are friendly and helpful as they begin to establish a new routine and begin to understand American customs. Everything seems new and exciting.
2) Culture shock and homesickness
Once a daily routine is established and the novelty of living in a new place has begun to wear off, many students experience culture shock. Differences between American culture and your own may no longer seem interesting, but rather have become bothersome. Students may begin to feel frustrated, sad, angry, confused and anxious about many aspects of their experience. Having to constantly listen and speak in English may become tiresome, and you may find that although your English proficiency is quite good, you don't understand many conversations because people speak in slang, or too quickly, or use idioms that you do not understand.
Because of the language barrier and cultural differences, some students fear that they will never make close friendships. Students can feel isolated when experiencing so much that is new and different and miss the comforts of home, friends, family and familiar food and customs which sometimes results in feeling hostile and angry toward the host culture.
During this phase, many student report feeling tired or bored. Some suffer form physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches or not sleeping well. Some students feel unable to concentrate on course work or find that they are not interested in socializing. They begin to withdraw from new friends, because maintaining relationships seems to take too much effort. This can also be the time when academic problems begin.
3) Building connections and finding support
While going through the stage of homesickness and culture shock, it is important to remember that adjusting to the US is a process and that other students have gone through similar experiences and have succeeded. You are not alone and with persistence, perspective and a bit humor, you will make adjustments and develop coping mechanisms. Experiencing any combination of these feelings is quite natural and temporary.
It will be important for you to tap into campus resources to help you move through this phase. Student organizations and campus events are a central part of the American college experience. Joining an organization and actively participating in campus events are invaluable to new students (especially international students) who are looking to form meaningful relationships. Working with other students as a member of an organization gives the opportunity to develop valuable friendships as goals are achieved together. This can often be an easier method for developing friendships rather than relying solely upon your own initiative to cultivate relationships. For a complete listing of all clubs and organizations, check with the Office of Student Leadership and Activities. Involvement also gives students the chance to develop skills that will become important in securing internships prior to graduation and full time employment after graduation. Becoming comfortable and confident with your academic work will be the foundation of your college experience; however, active involvement in a student organization will provide important opportunities for making the most of your Simmons experience.
Talk to someone who can help. This can be your faculty advisor, your international student advisor, your RA or another international student. Make an appointment at the Counseling Center. The Office of Student Life or the Office of Student Leadership and Activities or the Office of Student Life may be able to connect you to other students from your home country.
Remember to keep things in perspective and allow yourself to work through feelings of homesickness and culture shock. These feelings are commons and temporary. Stay in touch with friends and family at home. Write, call or email them. Be aware that adjusting to a new culture takes energy and be sure to get plenty of rest. Give your acquaintances the chance to become friends. Take the first step, and invite an acquaintance to a movie, or a cup of coffee, or for lunch — perhaps at a restaurant that offers food choices from your home country or that are familiar to you.
A Note on Developing American Friendships
Within the American culture there are degrees of friendship ranging from casual acquaintances to intimate friends. Americans often refer to an acquaintance (someone they see on a regular basis but don't actually know well) as a friend while also referring to a person with whom they have an intimate, long time relationship as a friend.
American culture is fairly casual relative to many other cultures. People greet each other asking "how are you?" but often don't wait for a response and often address people by their given names. Others say "let's get together some time" but don't follow through to actually make plans. International students may experience this casual friendliness as superficial and find frustration in making new friends. It is important to remember you left established friendships at home and are starting entirely new friendships. It will be helpful to try not to judge your new acquaintances by standards of your home culture. In time you will discover your own comfort level and methods of developing friendships here in the U.S.
4) Feeling at home
In time, you will adjust to the cultural changes and will feel comfortable with American culture. You will look back on the time of struggle and laugh at cultural misunderstandings you might have had, or be surprised how comfortable and familiar you have become with things that used to cause anxious moments or headaches.
5) Adjusting when returning home
After completing your studies and returning to your home country, you may find that you have a similar need to readjust to your home culture. Although it will be a lot easier, since you are already familiar with your home culture, you will have gotten used to some American ways of doing things. You may also find that you miss friends you made when studying at Simmons. It will be helpful to stay in touch with friends as you reconnect with your friends and family at home. Be sure to take updated contact information for all your friends home with you.