Spike and I would sit down and talk it out regularly as I tried to figure out why I was struggling with our move to Japan. He patiently heard about it for weeks on end but he was always there when I needed to just let it all out — homesickness, work issues, you name it. Those futon vent sessions were life-savers.
We moved abroad for two reasons: work and love. Neither of us could find well-paid stateside jobs in our chosen fields and the move also gave us the chance to live in the same city (compared to living in different time zones back home). So when we both were at our wit’s end, a reminder that at least we were together abroad versus separated back home REALLY put things in perspective.
One week when I was particularly homesick, I came home to find that Spiked had prepared me a “Friday Fish Fry,” a common Friday tradition back in Wisconsin where I grew up. Although the Japanese sesame-crusted salmon was nothing like the beer-battered cod fillets I usually enjoyed on Friday nights, the sentiment was incredibly thoughtful and it made me feel closer to the place that I was missing so much. The meal was such a success that we ended up making our version of “Friday Fish Fry” a regular occurrence in our home.
I would have never gotten past my cultural woes if my partner hadn’t made a point of getting me out and interacting with Japan. Festivals in particular were a way for Spike to dive right into the excitement of being abroad while still being a place where I could safely observe my surroundings without being intimidated. I could people watch, eat the local food and try my elementary Japanese in a very informal setting; it was a great way to build positive experiences with the culture during my first couple months in Tokyo.
Girlfriend: Why am I so damn homesick? How is this so easy for you?
Boyfriend: I never said I wasn’t homesick. I miss being able to afford cheese, too.
Girlfriend: But you love it here!
Boyfriend: I still miss home like everyone else. It’s natural.
On our days off and in the evenings, we would often go for walks in our neighborhood and give treats to the friendly stray cats in the area. It gave us a chance to unwind after the day and it reminded us of our pets back in the States. It wasn’t a fancy hobby, but we both have some really nice memories of walking among the rice paddies and dropping off treats for our kitten neighbors.
Sometimes you both may not share the same appreciation for cultural experiences and that is perfectly ok! Spike loves going out for tsukemen (literally, dipping noodles). I, on the other hand, can’t understand why eating noodles should ever involve two steps. While he is dipping and slurping, I shrug, pour my broth over my noodles, and order another shochu.
When your apartment is the size of a closet, it really helps when your partner knows exactly when to run errands.
Special thanks to Spike Daeley, who contributed to this article.
Yes, of course you are open minded, otherwise you would hardly consider living abroad, right? But living abroad requires a whole new level of open mindedness. Especially, when you move to a country that has a very different culture, it will be hard to get the idea out of your head: “How can they be so stupid? If we do it my way, it just makes so much more sense and is easier, quicker and more efficient.” To overcome these thoughts, you have to be more open minded than ever before. I struggled with this quite a lot, when I lived in China. It is also very normal and I do not believe any person that has lived abroad and says he or she has not had that thought in their heads. The only way you can overcome this, is to remind yourself constantly. When you have a frustrating experience, like I had with my train tickets, calm down and remind yourself, that you should be open to other ways of doing things. After all, you are a guest and, you are the foreigner.
How would you like it, if somebody walks into your home, and tells you that everything you do just doesn’t make sense and is stupid?
Similar to how some people wonder if kangaroos can be found in cities in Australia, they also wonder if cows really roam the streets in India. Actually, it's true about the cows. You'll find these fearless creatures meandering along all over the place, even on the beach. They're huge too, but mostly quite harmless (although there have been reports of cows randomly going berserk and attacking people). Depending on where you travel in India, it's likely that cows won't be the only animals you'll see on the roads. Donkeys and bullock carts are also common. If you go to the desert state of Rajasthan, you're almost guaranteed to see camels pulling carts through the cities.
Living abroad can be an exhilarating experience that encourages new world views, increases cultural curiosity and supports a willingness to explore unfamiliar terrains. However, it may also invite a sense of feeling a little lost in the world.
Culture shock is a common phenomenon and, though it may take months to develop, it often affects travelers and people living far from home in unexpected ways. Culture shock is more than simply being unfamiliar with social norms or experiencing new foods and it tends to impact travelers even after they’ve become familiar with and comfortable in new cultures.
Culture shock generally moves through four different phases: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. While individuals experience these stages differently and the impact and order of each stage varies widely, they do provide a guideline of how we adapt and cope with new cultures.
Headquartered in North Carolina, the Participate staff includes both people from around the world now living in the U.S. and U.S. Americans who have spent significant time in other countries. Insights from staff members on their experiences with the stages of culture shock are included throughout this post.
1. The Honeymoon Stage
The first stage of culture shock is often overwhelmingly positive during which travelers become infatuated with the language, people and food in their new surroundings. At this stage, the trip or move seems like the greatest decision ever made, an exciting adventure to stay on forever.
“I moved to the U.S. from Brazil to a host family as a exchange student and spoke almost no English. Within three months I had found a job, a boyfriend, I moved to an apartment with two other roommates, started a Brazilian dance club and I was traveling all over California. It felt easy and quick for me to make the U.S. my home.” — Fernanda Araujo, Participate events specialist
On short trips, the honeymoon phase may take over the entire experience as the later effects of culture shock don’t have time to set in. On longer trips, the honeymoon stage will usually phase out eventually.
2. The Frustration Stage
Frustration may be the most difficult stage of culture shock and is probably familiar to anyone who has lived abroad or who travels frequently. At this stage, the fatigue of not understanding gestures, signs and the language sets in and miscommunications may be happening frequently. Small things — losing keys, missing the bus or not being able easily order food in a restaurant — may trigger frustration. And while frustration comes and goes, it’s a natural reaction for people spending extended time in new countries.
“Coming from a really big city, the Research Triangle in North Carolina was tiny in comparison (population-wise) but, at the same time, I realized how vast distances were in the U.S. with cities spread out over miles. Not seeing people walking all over the place was very new to me as I’ve always lived in very busy places. I also came to know good public transport only exists in the biggest of cities in the U.S. In India there are a lot of neighborhood shops and markets so you don’t need to shop for groceries or household stuff in bulk. That took a little getting used to and in grad school I actually found it pretty inconvenient.” — Nitya Mallikarjun, director of product development
“A couple of weeks into a six-month stay in a very remote town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, I became extremely ill and was bedridden for a week. It was completely miserable and for days all I could think was: What am I doing here? All I thought about was how to get home. Of course, once I was finally recovered, I made the mile-long walk to a nearby beach and the thoughts I had about wanting to be back home instantly disappeared.” — Tamara Oxley, marketing and communications associate
“One thing that was particularly frustrating to me in the beginning was the lack of mobility that I experienced in the U.S. Where I grew up in Germany, you can get to any point at any time thanks to a great public transportation system, sidewalks and bike lanes everywhere. In the U.S., you are very limited in the things you can do if you don’t have a car and I completely underestimated how much you have to depend on others to get around. I realized that home, for me, meant to live in a place with countless opportunities and absolute freedom. I felt less independent and I think that this was one of the main reasons I felt homesick (besides the obvious ones: family, friends, etc.).” — Arne Plum, business operations analyst
Bouts of depression or homesickness and feelings of longing to go home where things are familiar and comfortable are all common during the frustration stage.
3. The Adjustment Stage
Frustrations are often subdued as travelers begin to feel more familiar and comfortable with the cultures, people, food and languages of new environments. Navigation becomes easier, friends and communities of support are established and details of local languages may become more recognizable during the adjustment stage.
“Because I was in Turkey for six months in a study abroad setting, acclimating to my new environment was sped up due to all of the resources I was able to access. However, I found that the best way to understand my new environment was to ask questions and learn to respect the culture in the way it currently exists. The local Turkish people seemed much more accommodating when I showed genuine interest in their customs, rather than obviously being an American who was uncomfortable with her new situation. I also found myself asking my Turkish roommates what was okay to do, not okay to do, where to go and where not to go, so I was able to adjust to my environment more quickly.” — Kate Riley, marketing and communications intern
4. The Acceptance Stage
Generally — though sometimes weeks, months or years after wrestling with the emotional stages outlined above — the final stage of culture shock is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are completely understood, rather it signifies realization that complete understanding isn’t necessary to function and thrive in the new surroundings. During the acceptance stage, travelers have the familiarity and are able to draw together the resources they need to feel at ease.
“When I moved from California to North Carolina, I came to the conclusion that one culture is not better than the other — there is no right or wrong, they are just different. And yes, that brought peace of mind, no more judgement or coming to my own conclusions.” — Fernanda Araujo
“There was a time when I realized that constantly comparing and contrasting everything would never allow me to be really happy here. Qualifying the differences worked both ways, and I felt torn between my life here and what used to be my life back in Germany. So I began to see the differences as what they are — just differences — without trying to rate them or use them to put one place over the other. Over time, I felt much more at ease with my life in the U.S., and I began to understand that these differences are what living abroad is all about.” — Arne Plum
Overcoming Homesickness in a New Country
For people living abroad, homesickness is bound to creep in. Here is what a few Participate staff members had to say about dealing with homesickness:
“I think I just acknowledged homesickness and sadness as natural parts of my cross-cultural experience. I stayed in touch with my family and friends but also worked on making friends here in the U.S., and looked for any opportunities to experience new things and visit new places.” — Anamaria Knight, director of curriculum and instructional design, on her experience moving to the U.S. from Romania for graduate school.
“I learned early on that missing your home culture is okay. I find that talking to friends and family, and having my favorite movie and/or snack in the house helps in those moments when I do miss home.” — Lisa Lundegard, e-learning business systems analyst, on immigrating to the U.S. from Sweden.
“It’s so easy to stay connected with family back home these days through email, Skype, WhatsApp — there are great new ways to constantly stay in touch so things are quite different from years back, I believe. When I feel homesick I usually have a long Skype chat with family or friends back home.” — Nitya Mallikarjun
Though it can be one of the hardest part of traveling, culture shock is just as integral to the experience as food, people and scenery. By recognizing it for what it is and finding ways to cope, you can prevent culture shock from ruining an otherwise fantastic experience abroad.
To learn more about living and teaching abroad, check out the Participate Learning blog.
When I first made the decision to go on antidepressants, my emotional and mental states had been careening out of control for some time. Even in moments of relative contentment, intense anguish and debilitating anxiety lingered just beneath the surface, spilling into nearly every facet of my life.
Through seeing a psychiatrist, I would later learn I had depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I suspected but hadn’t been formally diagnosed with when I consulted with my general physician and asked for antidepressants. I just wanted relief—possible side effects be damned—and wanted it immediately.
Going on antidepressants was indeed the right next step for me. They helped alleviate symptoms that made my day-to-day feel unbearable. Still, there was a lot I didn’t know before starting my medication that I wish someone had told me. If you’re considering going on antidepressants for the first time, here are some crucial things to keep in mind.
Antidepressants are meant to balance brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters affect your moods and emotions, and different kinds of drugs target them in different ways.
“The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. They tend to have fewer side effects than other antidepressants,” Nadia Ward, Ph.D., deputy director for public affairs at The Consultation Center at Yale and associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF. SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. That increases serotonin levels, generally resulting in positive changes like stabilized moods, improved sleep, less difficulty concentrating, and increased appetite, Ward says.
Other kinds of antidepressants include serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs, which increase those two neurotransmitters in the brain), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs, the first kind of antidepressant developed, which increases serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain), and atypical antidepressants (each of which works differently from the next).
One added benefit of some antidepressants is that their neurochemical effects may help with more than just depression. Some SNRIs, for example, can target anxiety in addition to depression.
SSRIs are often associated with side effects like drowsiness, nausea, dry mouth, insomnia, diarrhea, and headache, among others. They can also result in sexual problems, like a frustratingly low libido or orgasm that’s always out of reach. Other depression treatments come with their own potential downsides. For instance, SNRIs might cause excessive sweating. MAOIs might interact negatively with certain foods and some medications, leading to dangerously high blood pressure, which is why they’re not used as often as newer forms of antidepressants.
Keep in mind, though, that everyone’s body can react differently to different drugs, so this is an individual thing. (That’s why discussing your options thoroughly with your doctor is so key.) Also, these side effects may abate after a few weeks, Ward says. It really just depends.
If your antidepressant is causing side effects you just can’t (or don’t want to) deal with, tell your doctor. This is especially crucial if your meds bring about or exacerbate thoughts of self-harm, which is unfortunately possible since no antidepressant is perfect. “If you are experiencing side effects that are particularly troubling, such as suicidal ideation, contact your doctor immediately,” Ward says.
That’s not to say you definitely won’t hit the antidepressant jackpot on the first go. Some people have that kind of luck! But it’s also not uncommon for the first antidepressant or dosage you try to be at odds with your body in one way or another.
Maybe your treatment fails to provide relief in your ideal timeframe (these drugs typically take four to eight weeks to become fully effective) or falls short in some other way. In any case, rest assured: You’ve got options.
My antidepressant journey kicked off with major dietary and digestive issues, a virtually nonexistent libido, and persistent headaches that made me wonder if I was dying or had an undiscovered brain tumor (anxiety is a blast).
Weirdly enough, there was a bright side. Taking antidepressants pushed me to be more cognizant of how I felt emotionally, physically, and mentally. This new level of attentiveness became vital in maintaining a healthy relationship with my medication and knowing when it was time to adjust my treatment plan.
Think of yourself as the only liaison between your doctors and your body. No one is as keyed into what you’re feeling and as equipped to communicate your experience. Listen to your gut when something feels off, and address relevant issues—yes, even the embarrassing, slightly shame-inducing, or uncomfortable stuff—with your doctor.
If you’re ready to come off your medication, gradually tapering your dosage under the guidance of your doctor is the way to go. Not only could cutting off medication cold turkey trigger withdrawal symptoms like nausea, dizziness, insomnia, and incredibly unpleasant electric-shock sensations, it could worsen the condition or symptoms you’re treating in the first place. If that happens and you decide you do actually want to be on medication, you may have to wait weeks for it to become effective again.
While medication can be incredibly beneficial to some, and in some cases, a literal life saver, it’s crucial to understand that it’s often just one part of effective treatment. “The best treatment plan is, in my opinion, one that is diverse and layered,” Tricia Kayiatos-Smith, M.S.W, a Los Angeles–based clinical social worker and psychotherapist, tells SELF.
Therapy, a support group, and staying in tune with how you feel are all valid additions to your toolbox, she says. So is self-care, which is an integral part of my journey with depression. Continuing to learn what self-care means for me and how I can incorporate it into my daily routine has been invaluable. Small acts like taking time to make myself a nice meal and embracing a more health-conscious diet, getting fresh air with a walk outside when I’ve been cooped up inside too long, regularly decompressing with a good film, and taking a hot relaxing shower have all served a role in helping me feel like my best self.
I wish I could dole out advice saying, “Follow these simple steps and you, too, can find a therapist that’s a swell match!” In reality, finding someone who understands the layers of your personhood to your liking, is affordable or takes your insurance, is accessible location-wise, and who is accepting new patients can be a total pain. It usually takes some legwork.
“I often say that finding the right therapist is a bit like dating—you find what you can about them online, you meet in person, you feel each other out, and see if there is a connection,” Kayiatos-Smith says. “The right therapist should be welcoming, nonjudgmental, and lovingly challenge you.”
Finding a therapist who is a comfortable fit can be a struggle for anyone, but that problem can increase manyfold if you’re a person navigating multiple marginalized identities. Having an intersectional identity, like being a woman of a certain religion, a person of color, trans, queer, or a survivor of trauma informs who you are, Kayiatos-Smith says. “A therapist who understands, or who at least is willing to learn, is essential to providing you with the healing space you deserve.” While some people don't mind explaining their identities and experiences, it might trigger or exasperate others who want a therapist who also identifies in similar ways, she explains.
To start, consider asking your general physician or even another doctor you like, like your ob/gyn, for a reference. You might want to check in with friends you know are in therapy who you feel comfortable with. Beyond that, you can use tools like the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s HelpLine, which you can email at [email protected] or call at 800-950-6264. The HelpLine operates Monday through Friday, from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M., and one of their staffers or volunteers may be able to point you in the right direction. Online resources like GoodTherapy also allow you to search for local therapists using a variety of filters. If you have insurance, your provider might have an online database of therapists you can search through, too.
Once you are seeing a therapist, regularly check in with yourself: Does your therapist listen to your concerns or habitually dismiss them? When you sit down for your session, do you feel you’re in a safe, mutually respectful environment? How do you feel when you leave your appointments? It’s fine for a therapist to be a placeholder until you find someone better suited for your needs—like antidepressants, it might take some time to find the right fit—but your sessions should still feel productive.
When I first went on antidepressants, I’d find myself keeping my medication in the pharmacy bag and tucking it in a discreet pocket of my kitchen so as to hide it from plain view, despite no one else being around. I was confident in my decision to go on meds, but I’d still internalized the stigma. If you’re wrestling with similar feelings, know that for many people, taking antidepressants is a big step towards feeling better and improving their quality of life. An antidepressant may end up being the right fit for you, or it may not. Either way, there is no shame in making an effort to help yourself.
Leaving home and traveling to study in a new country can be a stressful experience, even though it may be something you have planned and prepared for. Many people are surprised when they experience the impact of culture shock, and it can be helpful to realize your experience is actually quite normal.
What is Cultural Shock?
Culture shock describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar. It includes the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new people and learning the ways of a new country. It also includes the shock of being separated from the important people in your life, such as family, friends, colleagues, and teachers: people you would talk to at times of uncertainty, people who give you support and guidance.
Factors that can contribute to culture shock
Many students find the northwest climate can affect them a lot. You may find the grayness and dampness, especially during the winter months, difficult to get used to.
Listening and speaking in a new language is tiring. In class, some international students have trouble understanding the lecture and reading materials. People speak quickly and you may feel embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they said. If English is not your first language, you may find you miss your home language.
Social behaviors may confuse, surprise or offend you. For example you may find people appear cold, distant or always in a hurry. Or you may be surprised to see couples holding hands and kissing in public. You may find the relationships between men and women more formal or less formal than you are used to, as well as differences in same sex social contact and relationships.
As well as the obvious things that hit you immediately when you arrive, such as sights, sounds, smells and tastes, every culture has unspoken rules which affect the way people treat each other. These may be less obvious, but sooner or later you will probably encounter them and once again the effect may be disorientating. For example, there will be differences in the ways people decide what is important, how tasks are allocated and how time is observed. In business and academic life, keeping to a schedule is important. You should always be on time for lectures, classes, and meetings with academic and administrative staff. If you are going to be late for a meeting, do try to give advance notice.
Although you may first become aware of cultural differences in your physical environment, (e.g. food, dress, behavior) you may also come to notice that people from other cultures may have very different views of the world from yours. Cultures are built on deeply-embedded sets of values, norms, assumptions and beliefs. It can be surprising and sometimes distressing to find that people do not share some of your most deeply held ideas, as most of us take our core values and beliefs for granted and assume they are universally held. As much as possible, try to suspend judgment until you understand how parts of a culture fit together into a coherent whole. Try to see what people say or do in the context of their own culture’s norms. This will help you to understand how other people see your behavior, as well as how to understand theirs. When you understand both cultures, you will probably find some aspects of each that you like and others that you don’t.
If your spouse or partner has accompanied you to the U.S., remember that the stress of the transition may cause struggles in your relationship. The transition to a new culture may be very difficult for your partner. Your partner may feel very isolated, he/she has been transplanted from your culture and separated from family and friends. Simple tasks can be stressful due to the language barrier. Often times they do not have opportunities to engage in productive, meaningful activity such as pursuing a degree, and it may be more difficult for them to make new friends.
If you’re struggling with the stress of cultural adjustment and would like to learn strategies for coping more effectively with your transition, please reach out to us at the Counseling Center. We would value the chance to meet you and learn more about how you are navigating the differences between your home culture and that of the UW campus. Many international students find that counseling can help them learn new coping skills, generate ideas about how to get connected, and receive support for the many transitions they are experiencing.