Culture Shock & Adaptation

Don’t compare and don’t judge

Adaptation is a process every Exchange Student goes through. It is much more than overcoming language barrier and culture gap. It is adjusting to new customs and traditions, understanding new values and completely integrating yourself into the new environment. Adaptation process is not always easy and fun, sometimes you would have to put effort into understanding things and accepting the new. The most useful quality to develop to make the adaptation easier is called non-judgement. You become a part of Exchange Program no to judge or compare but to experience the difference.

Your decision to become an Exchange Student is an important one, and it is a big step on your way to good education and successful future. However, along with all the benefits, there is also a lot of responsibility that comes your way. From the moment you enter the new country, you are 100% responsible for your emotions, your behavior, and for how you perceive the things. There are a lot of different emotions you would feel along the adjustment process. Do not miss any of them, but also do not ever focus on the negative ones. Your Exchange Year is for you to watch, experience, and learn, not to judge or teach anybody “the right way” to do anything. Even if something, or someone, does not meet your expectations, do not concentrate on that, move on.

Remember that your main goal is to be a part of a Cultural Exchange which means to try living “American way”. This includes but is not limited to respecting your Host Family’s rules and customs, following the school regulations, and being ready to accept the new reality, regardless of its difference from what you were used to back in your home country. The adjustment process is the concentration of feeling the difference between “the old” and “the new” but it is exactly what broadens your horizons and makes you more open-minded. There are 6 stages that describe what an Exchange Student feels along the Adaptation Process:

#1 — Honeymoon

This is the first and the most joyful part of an Exchange Year. This is the time you first meet the new country, your Host Family, go to your American school for the first time. Everything seems like a dream that came true, or a movie scene you have always pictured yourself in. You feel excited all the time and make your first steps to socializing in a new environment. This is also the time you start seeing yourself as an Exchange Student, a part of something global.

#2 — Crisis

The first-minute excitement goes away, and the life starts feeling boring and routine. Also the problems arise: you struggle with the language, have a misunderstanding with your Host Parents, and the homework you get takes up all your time. At this point, you might feel lonely and abandoned because you have left your comfortable environment and your friends back home, and you have not made the new ones yet. You also feel homesick and even regret coming to the US.

To live through this hard time and come back to enjoying the new, you should focus on the positive aspects of the situation. Do not close yourself off from the people around, do the opposite: be friendly and easygoing, reach out, make new connections. Having some friends by your side would definitely help you overcome the crisis, and make your adjustment easier in general.

Also, pay attention to your social media and online communication. At this point. spending too much time online, especially talking to your friends and family back home, can only make you more homesick and even depressed. Feeling like your life back there goes on without you taking part in it can make you feel forgotten. It might also make you obsessed with social media and texting your friends and family to make it seem like you are still there with them.

However, there are no benefits from doing so, and quite enough of negative consequences. First, sharing your “exchange-student” problems and emotions with the people back home does not help solve any of the problems. Although you feel like opening up to the people you know for a long time is the best solution, thi is not a case. They are far away and only see the situation from your own point of view, so they cannot be objective and give you any advice even if they want to. The only thing they can do for you is sharing your emotions and living through all of your sadness and homesickness with you. Are you sure that is what you really want?
Second, talking to your friends from your home country keeps you from creating new connections and socializing at school, or wherever else. Not making American friends and substituting them with the texts and video calls does not make much sense for a person who goes overseas to experience the new society.

Do not limit your communication to texting people of your social circle back home. Meet new people, reach out, and put your phone away!

#3 — Recovery

This is the time you figure out how to deal with day to day life in the new country and start feeling okay about most of the things. By now, you have memorized your schedule, your teachers’ names, and learnt how to properly use the tumble dryer. You feel more and more confident and you are no more scared to start a conversation or compliment your classmate’s new hairstyle. This is the time of great opportunities that come right your way as soon as you are open to them.

#4 — Adaptation

At this point, your life has not been more “American” ever before. You now have friends, hobbies, favorite TV-show at 7PM, and a favorite coffee shop around the corner from school. You have not just met the American reality but made yourself comfortable in it. As an Exchange Student, you still have a lot to learn but the general adjustment to the USA is completed.
Congratulations!

#5 — Pre-departure stress

As mentioned before, at some point you start feeling comfortable and “at home” which makes it a little hard to leave. Some weeks before the departure, time usually starts rushing, and you might feel like you have not had enough, and not want to leave that soon. However, the best thing to do at this time is to let go all the worries and enjoy the last weeks on program as much as possible. Everything you go through as an Exchange Student is a unique life-changing experience which does not end as soon as you enter the airport to go home. The people you’ve met and the memories you’ve made together stay with you for your whole life. Also, remember that going home is not only about leaving the US but also coming back and meeting your friends and family – people you’ve missed a lot.

#6 — Reverse Culture Shock

Coming back home after an Exchange Year might seem just like coming back from a long vacation. However, it is quite different. Life back home does not freeze the minute you board the plane to the US, it goes on. Be ready to realize that things have changed while you were away. And what is even more important, you have changed as well.

An Exchange Program is not something you watch or learn – it is something you live through, something that changes you and brings a lot to you as a person. It is weird but you might need some time to adjust to what you were used to your whole life just because it is so different from what you have experienced in the US.

All these stages do not have to go in an order, or even happen. However, they describe the general sense of Culture Shock and Adaptation which every Exchange Student faces.

Choose a program:

The program provides an opportunity for high school students to live in the USA for an academic year, staying with host families and studying at public schools
Canada is an excellent choice for education and personal growth, thanks to its high-quality secondary schools, supportive and safe family environments, and comprehensive housing options
Support in obtaining scholarships to study in public or private schools in the United States, with a high school diploma upon successful completion
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