Living in a foreign culture is an experience we often look forward to with excitement and enthusiasm. However, many of us are often unprepared for the extent of the cultural dissimilarity we encounter. Culture shock is a very real phenomenon and all international students entering a foreign culture are affected by it in some way.

The automatic responses you used in your home country may not be applicable in New Zealand.  It is common for international students to experience feelings of euphoria upon arriving in New Zealand, often called the honeymoon period. Everything appears new and exciting. However upon settling into the routine of study people may experience feelings of frustration, loneliness or uneasiness. Remember that feelings of frustration or uneasiness are a natural part of adapting to a new culture.

Sometimes you may feel as if you lack direction, not knowing what to do or how to do things in New Zealand, and not knowing what is appropriate and inappropriate. Often the way that you lived or behaved before is not accepted or considered normal in the new place.

Here are some other possible symptoms of culture shock you may experience:

  • You may feel isolated or frustrated
  • You may become homesick
  • You may experience anger or hostility toward your new home
  • You may become overly dependent upon other students from your country
  • You may doubt your decision to come to New Zealand

You may experience one or more of these symptoms, and different people will experience them in varying degrees of intensity. It is important for you to realise that you will probably experience culture shock before you begin your cultural adaptation, and that this is normal.

Ways to cope with culture shock

Below are some ways that you might want to try to combat culture shock.

  • Remember that experiencing culture shock is a normal part of the adaptation process.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, adapting will take time.  Be patient.
  • Keep a journal, it can really show you how you’re doing if you read what you wrote when you first arrived and compare it to several months later.
  • Talk to someone who has been through the cultural adaptation process. This person can probably give you a positive perspective on the experience you are having.
  • Be open-minded and try to remember that New Zealand is a different country. People will behave in ways that may seem to you odd or even rude, but you must try to avoid judging New Zealanders by your cultural standards.
  • Keep yourself busy and active; keep your mind occupied.
  • Avoid the temptation to spend all your time with other students from your country.
  • Maintain contact with other students from your country. This will give you a feeling of belonging and you will reduce your feelings of loneliness and alienation.
  • Don’t forget about all the good things about the experience of living in New Zealand.
  • Exercise or develop a hobby.
  • Establish simple goals and evaluate your progress.
  • Try to get involved in activities outside your studies, perhaps with other international students or peoples in New Zealand.

Once you begin to understand New Zealand culture you will not feel as lost and will begin to gain a sense of direction. You will realise that the New Zealand culture, like any culture, has positive and negative aspects. Remember that there is always someone or some service available to help you.