Cultural Adjustment Tips
Living in a new culture can be an exciting opportunity in which students will grow personally, academically, and professionally. It can also be a frustrating and challenging time. It is one thing to visit a country for a short period of time, but it can become more difficult when you spend a period of time in a new culture.
Before leaving for Rome, spend some time researching Italy and Italian culture. You will find that Italian customs are not only different from our customs in the US but also from neighboring countries in Europe and North Africa.
It is very important to prepare yourself prior to your departure in order to understand and feel comfortable in the new customs and culture of Italy and Europe. Please read through the Cultural Tips in the JFRC Pre-Departure Handbook.
Here are some tips to help you deal with the stress:
- Before you leave, learn about your destination: customs, geography, politics, social issues, and history (you can use the fifty questions handout to begin on this).
- Expect change and difference and ambiguity. These are learning opportunities, rather than problems to overcome.
- Keep in mind that during a good amount of time while you are abroad, especially at the beginning, you will not completely understand how things work or what they mean. Learn to be comfortable at failing at some tasks, feeling stupid or silly (like a 5 year old), and asking people for help. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake (especially with regards to speaking a foreign language).
- Accept that different cultures may have different concepts of time and punctuality- not inferior, just different.
- Keep in touch with family and friends back home. Share events as they happen.
- Get out and experience the culture! Make friends (and not just American)! Seek out friends and groups that share your interests. Host national language partners are a great way to meet people your own age if you are going to a non-English speaking country.
- Do not forget to take care of yourself physically-eat healthy, exercise, and get plenty of rest.
- Keeping a journal serves as an excellent way to keep track of what you have done and what you want to do. It gives you a place to record your observations and personal reflections.
- Expect some inconveniences, like long commutes! Your goal is to live like a “local”- and generally, the locals do not live in the center of town, especially when in a big city.
- If you have problems/concerns, contact local staff first; they are the people who will most likely be able to help you figure out what to do. Trust your program. They have been working with study abroad students for a long time, and they generally know what students need. Thus, for example, if they require that you attend an orientation, trust that they are telling you things that will be helpful to you as you begin your stay abroad and pay attention, even if the information seems repetitious or like common sense.
- If you have any reoccurring medical concerns, make sure to tell program staff about them as soon as possible (preferably before you leave the U.S.) so that they can be prepared to help you.
- Plan small tasks each day that will help you meet people and accomplish something- like preparing a new food, talking to someone new, accepting an invitation to go somewhere, etc.