Packing: (adapted from Arcadia University’s website) The leave-half-behind rule. You are going to have to carry whatever you pack by yourself, so leave behind half of what you think you need. You will be limited to two pieces of checked luggage and one carry-on bag on the flight, and even that is more than you can comfortably carry. Large, hard-sided suitcases are tough to carry and even more difficult to store. USE DUFFEL BAGS or a good, internal frame BACKPACK. Closet space will not be as generous as what you are used to, so even if you can get it there, you won’t necessarily know where to put it.
Budgeting: (adapted from Arcadia University’s website)
You’ll stretch your budget if you do the following:
- Make daily and weekly budgets and stick to them.
- Prepare your own food. It’s cheaper than eating out. If you do eat out, eat your main meal at noon, rather than in the evening.
- Plan your activities around free, inexpensive and discounted events.
- Take care of your belongings and safeguard your travelers checks, cash and passport.
- Loss from carelessness or theft is hard enough to bear at any time, but it is even more distressing abroad. Pickpocketing is common, particularly in spots frequented by tourists. Write down the numbers of your travelers checks and make a photocopy of the document page of your passport, and keep these in a separate place in case the originals are lost or stolen.
With a little realistic planning, you won’t be caught by surprise later on.
Health: (taken from www.ciee.org)
If you’re going to study or work abroad, you’ve got to consider your health. From navigating a new health care system to overcoming culture shock to figuring out where to buy a cold remedy, you’ll have new things to think about.
assess and address your state of mind
Deep down, you know that going abroad is not a magic cure for problems at home. Any physical and emotional health issues you have will follow you wherever you travel. New circumstances can even exacerbate existing issues into crises while you’re away from home. If you are concerned about your physical or emotional health, including use of alcohol or other controlled drugs, address your situation honestly before going abroad.
identify your needs
Understand—and communicate—any health requirements you have when applying for a program and making housing arrangements. This means allergies, psychological therapy, dietary requirements, disabilities, and any other medical or special educational needs. Disabled students study abroad successfully all the time, though resources and services for people with special needs vary widely by country and region. If you have been using services here at home to address those needs, make sure you understand ahead of time exactly what accommodations can and will be made. In some cases, your needs may determine which program is suitable for you.
ask questions, get answers
There are health-related things you’ll need to know about your host country, from the quality of water to the laws governing the import of medications to customs concerning the use of alcohol and drugs. Some places to start asking:
• family physician
• campus health service (Campus Hall 127)
• campus study abroad advisor (Dr. Marilyn Kiss)
• local public health department
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) (800.311.3435)
• U.S. State Department Overseas Citizens Emergency Center (www.travel.state.gov ) (202.647.5225)
• Mobility International (www.miusa.org) (503.343.1284) if you have a disability
check health advisories
Learn about immunization requirements and recommendations and check for regional health advisories (www.cdc.gov/travel/) for your host country. If you have special health needs, think about any conditions that may affect you particularly.
see your doctors
A visit to your physician, gynecologist, and dentist is a must to ensure you leave healthy—and prevent emergencies abroad. Get immunizations and hepatitis protection if needed for the region you’re traveling to. Check whether medications and medical supplies are available in your host country; if not, carry a supply with you. Pack copies of all medical records and prescriptions, including for eyeglasses. If you think you’ll need regular medical care abroad, take along a letter of introduction from your doctor at home that includes details of your medical treatment.
verify health insurance coverage
It’s something to consider when choosing a program: some study abroad packages include health insurance as part of the program fee and some do not. Check your regular policy to see what coverage it provides for medical services abroad—and whether your plan pays the provider in your host country directly, or you must pay yourself and seek reimbursement later. Be sure you have coverage for medical evacuation, in case you need to be flown back to the U.S. for medical treatment. Make certain you’ll have coverage for continuing treatment of newly acquired medical conditions once you return home. If you have questions, the international office at your school may be able to help.
pack your own first-aid kit
Never underestimate the importance of being prepared. Always travel with basic medical supplies close at hand:
• rubbing alcohol
• sunscreen and sunburn ointment
• anti-diarrhea medication
• gauze and adhesive tape
• antibacterial ointment
• pain reliever
Don’t forget the health maintenance supplies:
• regular medications (check expiration dates before you go)
• contraceptives (if you need them)
• feminine hygiene products (if you’re traveling where they are not available)
• hand sanitizer
Depending on where you’re headed, you may also need:
• water purification tablets
• salt tablets
• skin moisturizer
• insect repellent
• malaria prophylaxis
give yourself time to adjust
Expect jet lag—and a little culture shock. Get your body on the new schedule by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, eating plenty of nutritious food, exercising, and resting. Culture shock is a natural effect of being exposed to new lifestyles and values, so don’t be surprised if you feel a bit impatient, confused, or anxious, or if you hit emotional highs and lows as you adjust. Time usually takes care of it, but if any problems persist, consult your on-site program director or get help from a counselor or doctor.
seek out resources
Learn how you’ll get routine and emergency medical help before you need it. Who will provide your care and how can you reach that provider? Is there a 911-style emergency number? If so, what services does it provide? If you need any special help such as a self-help group or services for a special need or disability, find out how to get it.
make medical needs known
If you have a medical condition, tell those in your host country who can be of assistance, including doctors who can provide care and people in your dormitory who can help in an emergency.
learn about local customs
Lifestyles, practices, and expectations will be very different from home—even in places that seem on the surface to be relatively similar to the U.S. Make sure you understand how things work. Don’t assume that behavior you took for granted at home will be accepted in your host country. Ask about:
• safety issues such as local transportation, swimming practices, and electrical appliances
• security issues such as neighborhood security, and personal security at night
• cultural issues like attitudes toward gender, friendship, and dating
make new friends
It may not sound like a health tip, but don’t isolate yourself. You will probably have to make the first move in developing friendships, but they’ll make the whole experience worthwhile (not to mention keep you sane).
Going home can seem like the best part when you think about the hundreds of photos you can show and the hundreds of stories you can tell. Just be aware: most U.S. students experience culture shock when they return, too.
You’ll have discovered a lot of new things while studying abroad. Realize how those new experiences may have changed you. Do you have new interests? New attitudes, opinions, perspectives? Changed values? Have your expectations of your friends and family changed? Your new haircut may be only the beginning.
moderate your expectations
Your trip transforms you, but not your friends and family. Problems that existed when you left may still be there when you return. Or things may have changed while you were gone. Be prepared to realistically face issues in all your circumstances and relationships.
take care of yourself
Jet lag will kick in, and you’ll have to adjust again when you return. Rest, exercise, eat healthy, and continue any medications you need.
share your experience
Help friends and family understand this new part of your life by sharing the most important parts of your time overseas, including pictures and other mementos—but be prepared for some who have not traveled abroad to have a limited attention span. If you want to talk more, or if you feel a bit alienated from friends and family, connect with faculty, your study abroad advisor, or other returning students. Take advantage of re-entry workshops your study abroad office may provide; you’ll meet new friends and share your experiences with people who will listen and understand.
make it last
Some schools have programs that enable you to serve as a peer advisor for other prospective study or work abroad students, or host an international student visiting from your host country. Constantly look for ways to continue your international experience and the transformation it brings.
Culture Shock (from Arcadia University’s website)
What is it?
Culture shock is the mental, physical and emotional adjustment to living in a new environment. It is the coming to terms with different ways of approaching everyday living–everything from fundamental philosophical assumptions (one’s worldview) to daily chores.
Anyone living in a new environment long enough cannot ignore the differences. They become frustrating, and possibly infuriating, until recognizable patterns emerge and an understanding of why things are done differently develops.
Culture shock is different for everyone, but a common pattern can be charted on a U-shaped curve that encompasses five separate phases: fun, fright, flight, fight and fun. Typically, when you first arrive in your host country, everything is wonderful. You are excited that you have arrived, finally seeing first-hand all those places that previously were just one-dimensional pictures. This is the ‘fun’ stage.
After awhile, all those wonderful, cute customs become aggravating. There is no point to them. You think your own culture’s ways are much better, more efficient, and more sensible. While your host country’s people seem friendly at first, you feel it is just superficial warmth, not a real interest in establishing a friendship. You begin to miss your family and friends. This is the ‘fright’ stage.
Then it gets worse. You’re really homesick. You can’t find anything good about your host country. Everything stinks. You are convinced that nothing beats your home country, and you remember how good you had it at home. You may even come to believe that all your problems will go away if you can just pack up and go home. This is the ‘flight’ stage. It’s serious, but usually temporary.
You give yourself a pep talk and decide to stick it out awhile longer. This experience deserves a fair chance. You become a bit more active in the clubs you joined earlier. You make more of an effort to get to know the people on your dorm floor. You decide to be less furious with those stupid policies (like post offices and stores that close early). Now you are into the ‘fight’ stage.
You begin to like the people on your residence hall floor. In fact, those acquaintances are more like friends. They tell you why those stupid policies are the way they are. In fact, those policies make sense and don’t seem too stupid. You are no longer inconvenienced by them and have trouble understanding why they bothered you so much. You suddenly realize you like it there and want to stay forever. You have arrived at the fifth and final stage — and have made it through the emotional roller coaster ride of culture shock.
Possible Symptoms of Culture Shock
Sometimes people don’t realize when they are suffering from culture shock or they may experience some of the symptoms during different times and in varying degrees. This confusion can be the result of looking at several symptoms as isolated problems rather than as related components of a single affliction. Some signs which you may notice that could indicate culture shock are:
- Withdrawal (spending too much time in your room, only seeing other U.S. students, avoiding your host family)
- Negative feelings and stereotyping of nationals
- Inability to concentrate
- Excessive sleep or insomnia
- Compulsive eating or drinking
- Lack of appetite
- Crying uncontrollably or outbursts of anger
- Physical ailments, such as frequent headaches or stomachaches
Dealing with Culture Shock
There are ways to prepare for, and thereby lessen the extremes of, culture shock. First, know that you will experience some degree of culture shock (even if you don’t believe it now). Everyone does. Carefully read the process outlined so that you will recognize the symptoms and feelings. Most importantly, understand that those frustrating feelings will pass.
Second, expect things to be different. Some differences will be quite obvious, others less so. You are probably prepared for the major cultural differences, such as religious and socio-economic differences. It is the apparently trivial differences that will become the most aggravating. Try not to allow yourself to blow them out of proportion.
Third, don’t label differences as “good” or “bad.” Because the American way is the predominant (if not the only) way you know, you will inevitably compare everything in your host country with the ways and approaches you know from the U.S. Realize that you are not looking objectively at your new culture. Rather, you are seeing (and judging) it from the American perspective. Instead of judging what you see as better or worse than what you know in the U.S., try to focus on the differences and ask why they exist.
Fourth, maintain the ability to laugh at your mistakes. It will take some time to adapt to the point where you can maneuver without making cultural missteps. After all, it took quite a bit of training by your parents and family and effort on your part to be comfortable in your own culture!
Finally, you don’t have to “do as the Romans do” and accept all the differences. You will like some of your host country’s ways and incorporate them into your daily routine. Other ways won’t fit your values or outlook, and you will decide that they are not appropriate for you. You are free to make choices, and doing so is perfectly acceptable.
Taking the Sting Out of the Shock
Culture shock occurs because, unconsciously, we expect everyone to be like us. Inevitably, something will occur in a new culture that will not fit your frame of reference and therefore won’t be fully comprehended. This sort of ambiguity is threatening and frequently causes fear, anger, repulsion or some strong emotion.
The key to coping is to become aware of these reactions as they arise. Instead of allowing an extreme emotional reaction to control you, try to determine the cause of your reaction. By focusing on the cause instead of the reaction, you can frequently help the emotion to abate. Then you can experience the situation more objectively, without the American presumptions which caused the emotional reaction in the first place.
Careful observation, not clouded or skewed by your own cultural presumptions and expectations, will help you develop an understanding of the new culture and will facilitate your inclusion in that culture.
American Cultural Patterns
Culture shapes everything — the ways in which you think and analyze; what you value; how you do things; what’s considered proper behavior. It is difficult to assess all the effects of a culture while you are enmeshed in it. When you are abroad, you will discover important aspects of the American culture that you were unaware of before you left. Since you will be viewing your new culture from the American perspective, it is helpful to have a good grasp on the American perspective & understand how it shapes you.
Being aware of your own cultural biases and presumptions will enable you to understand your reactions to ambiguous events that occur while you are abroad. While you won’t escape culture shock, you can be well-prepared to face it and dilute its effects. You may think this is obvious, but take a look anyway. Tacit knowledge can only be of help to you if you are cognizant of it.
Most western cultures share many of the same assumptions with Americans, but some variations do exist. Be prepared for “efficient and quick” to be a very different concept from what you are used to. While everyone likes an idea that works, some cultures value aesthetics over practicality or emphasize the process over the end result, and family ties and social obligations are often given priority over individual needs and wants.
You are Not Alone
Remember that everyone else on your program will experience similar feelings to yours. Don’t hesitate to look to them for moral and emotional support. In addition, the staff of both your host institution’s international student office and our offices abroad can help you if you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Please seek them out.