The hardest part of being an international student sometimes isn’t the grades at all, but rather the challenges that come from being in a new culture.
Michelle Suderman, associate director of international student development at the University of British Columbia, says while the first few weeks in a new culture can be loads of fun as you discover new things and meet new people, once things settle down a hard reality can hit when you realize that enthusiasm alone isn’t going to get you through your new challenges. The key is to stay positive and make an effort to expand your horizons constructively.
“Research indicates that when people are coming into a new culture they tend to have a honeymoon period, but then, eventually they crash and start to miss those things which are familiar to them. Most people find that if they go beyond their comfort zone they actually emerge stronger for it,” Suderman said.
Cheryl Gonsalves, an international student advisor at the University of Toronto, says international students can struggle with making new friends and encountering social customs which may be strange or counter to what they’re used to.
“It’s common to have trouble making friends or fitting in, which itself can create some level of culture shock so we encourage students in their first month to do as much outreach and networking as possible. Try to be proactive and embrace the diversity around you,” Gonsalves said.
Most importantly, realize that growing pains are part of the process and it’s OK to revert to a safety net of familiar things every once in a while.
“It takes effort to bridge the gap between different cultures, it doesn’t just happen overnight so we strongly encourage students to stay connected to things that help them remember who they are, whether it be a religious group, a sport or a particular pastime,” Suderman said.
If you’re studying in a new culture, here are a few things experts suggest to lessen your culture shock.
Join clubs and groups with other people, particularly those who share your own interests and connect with classmates after class. Making friends will help ease you into the culture more naturally and with less frustration.
Make use of international student resources on campus
Most schools provide counselling and support services to help international students get and stay on their feet in a new culture so you don’t have to go it alone.