You’ve been planning your move abroad for a long time, and now the date has finally arrived! Moving to a new place is exciting. Meeting new people and learning new things will be a life-changing experience. But after you arrive at your new home and start your studies at the university, you may have difficulty adjusting to your new surroundings. Instead of feeling happy, you are feeling anxious, depressed, or low in energy. You are experiencing something called culture shock.

Culture shock is a natural response to the new situation you are in. Moving to a new country is one of the most rewarding but challenging experiences a person can go through. It will test your patience, confidence and resilience.

Many international students go through culture shock, so you are not alone. There are good support networks at university that can help you settle into a new location, new culture, and new learning environment.

What is culture shock?


Culture shock is more than a feeling of strangeness or isolation when arriving at a different country. It’s a set of emotional and physical responses that result from moving into a cultural environment that is very different to your own.

Common symptoms are:

  • Withdrawal (staying in your room, avoiding contact with others)
  • Feelings of vulnerability, anxiety or helplessness
  • Sleeping a lot or tiring easily
  • Depression, loneliness and distrust of others
  • Longing to be back home
  • Irritability and frustration with local ways of doing things

Everyone experiences culture shock differently, so you will likely only display some of these symptoms. Your symptoms will also change as you progress through the five stages of culture shock.

What are the 5 stages of culture shock?

culture shock

STAGE 1: Honeymoon

Everything is exciting and new when you first arrive in your new home. You’re filled with a sense of wonder and adventure.

Enjoying yourself as much as possible during this early stage is essential. Explore the city, make as many friends as possible, and have lots of fun. You can join the Adelaide College social club or one of the 130 clubs at the University of Adelaide.

culture shock

STAGE 2: Rejection and irritation

After several months, the same cultural differences that initially seemed great might become a source of irritation. You may start negatively comparing local customs with how things are done back at home. You start missing your family and friends back home.

What you can do:

  • Learn the new language quickly through language classes and speaking with locals. Get to know more locals – you may learn many things about the culture that will help you understand them better.
  • Keep an open mind and stop comparing. What you may consider rude or irrational behaviour is usually cultural, so try not to take it personally.
  • Put your energy into developing supportive friendships to help you through this difficult time.
  • Use the student services that are available to you. They can assist with everything from providing welfare support to connecting you with clubs and peers.

STAGE 3: Gradual adjustment

After 6-12 months, you will begin to be more familiar with your surroundings. You know how to get around the city on public transport, you have a daily routine and know where to buy your favourite things. You are more comfortable in the learning environment at university.

You can speak the local language better and are more accepting of cultural differences.  You’re more socially confident and have made new friends!

Even though life is easier than before, you still feel a little lost and vulnerable, and you continue to question your decision to move. You still miss your family and friends back home. There are times where you do not feel very energetic and experience some of the other symptoms in Stage 2.

Don’t give up. Keep up the good work you’ve been doing. Explore other hobbies and interests such as sports, creative art or volunteer work.

culture shock
culture shock

STAGE 4: Adaptation

After about a year, the city you moved to feels like a second home. You have a good community of friends, know where most things are located and the services you need to access. You have embraced the local culture and can speak the local language well.

You still get homesick, but you don’t idealise your culture over the local culture as much.

That is fine if you still feel culture shock symptoms after a year. For some people, adjusting to a new country can take longer. Keep using the strategies discussed above and lean on your support networks.

culture shock

STAGE 5: Re-entry shock

When you return home after you complete your course or after a few years you may feel emotionally detached and everything that was once familiar is now strange.

Be patient with your friends and family. It’s hard for them to understand the journey you’ve just experienced unless they’ve lived overseas themselves.

Try to get back into a routine and join social activities to resettle faster back home.

At the University of Adelaide College, we want to make sure you know what it’s all about and how you can help yourself and find the right support to make the most of your overseas experience. Our student services team are happy to help you adjust to life here.