Leaving home and travelling to study in a new country can be a stressful experience. Even though it may be something you have planned and prepared for, the extent of change and its effects may take you by surprise.

In your first few weeks and months in a new country it's common to experience some degree of culture shock. You will notice differences between the way things are done and what you are used to at home. These include the way people dress, speak and behave, teaching and learning styles, and food – potentially all aspects of life.

This can be frustrating and disorienting at first, as even something as simple as buying a bus ticket needs figuring out – can I buy it on the bus, or from a shop or kiosk? Do I have to validate it? Does it cover a single trip, or a set period of time?

Common signs that you may be experiencing culture shock include:

  • anxiety and loneliness
  • missing family and friends
  • avoiding people
  • unable to eat
  • problems sleeping
  • tired, not enough energy
  • disorganisation, with no routine
  • anger and confusion.

But remember, culture shock is a completely normal response to some big changes in your life and there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself settle in.

Tips to help you adjust

When coping with feelings of culture shock it’s very important to firstly remember you're not alone – there are entire networks of people around you who can help!

Here are some things you can try to help you relax:

  • remember your reactions are normal
  • stay in contact with family and friends
  • talk to international students for support
  • do some familiar activities, especially things you're good at
  • find students from your culture who have adjusted well
  • get involved in social and recreational activities that will help you to meet people and make new friends.
  • join a student or community group
  • join a study group
  • use the English language as much as possible
  • take advantage of UQ student services and orientation activities
  • introduce yourself to people around you, especially students in your courses
  • don't be afraid to ask questions
  • get plenty of exercise, eat well, and drink plenty of water.

Overall, thinking positively, being willing to learn, and maintaining an open mind and light-hearted attitude will make every day a bit easier. But don’t forget to allow yourself sufficient time to adjust.

Most importantly, keep your sense of humour and believe in yourself!

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