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University is not only about studying (although that is very important) – it’s a whole new way of life to experience. 

What is culture shock? 

Culture shock is a term used to describe the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar. It can affect anyone and can happen if you travel abroad to work, live or study and even on holiday. 

You miss family, friends and colleagues, who would normally give you support and guidance. You may find areas of your new life very different to what you are used to such as the weather or food. It can be tiring to constantly hear and speak in a foreign language and people may speak too quickly or with a strong regional accent so that you have difficulty understanding them. 

These and other differences to your home life will contribute to your sense of culture shock. Some of the symptoms can be worrying. For example, if you find your health is affected such as getting headaches or stomach aches. You may find it difficult to concentrate or focus on your course work or find that you become more irritable or tearful. 

If you feel you need additional support, please see our Student Wellbeing pages for information and access to help. 

Common culture shock triggers

  • Differences in food
  • Language be difficult to understand.
  • Weather and Climate
  • Dress
  • Social Roles or attitudes

Sometimes something that you feel should be simple, like buying a bus ticket or making a doctor's appointment can trigger a reaction due to the diffierences in culture during the process.

How to manage culture shock 

Although culture shock is normally a temporary phase, there are things you can do to minimise the effects: Accepting that this is a normal experience may be helpful and keeping in touch with home will help. Have familiar things around you that have personal meaning such as photographs and try and find a supplier of familiar food. It may help to find someone to talk to who will listen uncritically and with understanding. 

The best way to stay healthy is to eat good food, exercise, sleep well and to spend time with others. Most British supermarkets stock foods from other countries and there are specialist shops in towns. It’s not so terrible to try English food either! Make sure you spend time out of your room. It’s very easy to become isolated when you are in a foreign country. Although you might be nervous trying something new such as joining a society or sports club – you’ll soon find that there was no need to worry! This will also help you make new friends.  

More information on student activities can be found in student life.  

Remember that culture shock is entirely normal, unavoidable and not a sign that you can't manage.