Health and Counseling Center

Counseling Services

International Students Adaptation

The content of culture shock

Culture shock is the process of initial adjustment to an unfamiliar environment. This psychological idea of culture shock has been used to describe the adjustment process in its emotional, psychological, behavioral, cognitive, and physiological impact on individuals.

The recent literature recognizes that culture shock applies to any new situation, job, relationship, or perspective requiring a role adjustment and a new identity. In a broader and more general sense, culture-shock applies to any situation where an individual is forced to adjust to an unfamiliar social system where previous learning no longer applies.

There are at least six indicators that a culture-shock adjustment is taking place.

  1. Missing familiar cues: cues about how the person is supposed to behave are missing, or the familiar cues now have a different meaning.
  2. Values get confused: what the person considered good, desirable, beautiful, and valuable is not respected by the new hosts.
  3. Emotional response: the disorientation of culture shock may create an emotional state of anxiety, depression, or hostility, ranging from a mild uneasiness to the extreme of  unreasonable and uncontrollable rage attributed to colonials in the last century by indigenous peoples.
  4. Dissatisfaction: there is a dissatisfaction with the new ways and an idealization of "the way things were."
  5. Missing recovery skills: recovery skills that used to work before no longer seem to work.
  6. Dispair: there is a sense that this culture shock discrepancy is permanent and will never go away.
    Oberg (1960) mentioned six negative aspects of culture shock including:
    (1) strain resulting from the effort of psychological adaptation,
    (2) a sense of loss or deprivation caused by the removal of former friends, status, role, and/or possessions,
    (3) rejection by or rejection of the new culture,
    (4) confusion in the role definition, role expectations, feelings, and self-identity,
    (5) unexpected anxiety, disgust, or indignation regarding cultural differences between the old and new ways, and
    (6) feelings of helplessness as a result of not coping well in the new environment.

The stage theory of culture shock

The first stage of initial contact, or the "honeymoon stage," is where the newly arrived individual experiences the curiosity and excitement of a tourist, but where the person's basic identity is rooted in the back-home setting. The second stage involves disintegration of the old familiar cues, and the individual is overwhelmed by the new culture's requirements. The individual typically experiences self-blame and a sense of personal inadequacy for any difficulties encountered.

The third stage involves a reintegration of new cues and an increased ability to function in the new culture. The emotions associated with this stage are typically anger and resentment toward the new culture as having caused difficulties and being less adequate than the old familiar ways. Because of this outer-directed anger, persons in this stage of culture shock are difficult to help.

The fourth stage continues the process of reintegration toward gradual autonomy and increased ability to see the bad and good elements in both the old and the new cultures. A balanced perspective emerges that helps the person interpret both the previous home and the new host cultures.

The fifth stage is described as reciprocal interdependence, where the person has ideally achieved biculturality, or has become fluently comfortable in both the old and the new cultures. There is some controversy about whether this stage is an unreachable ideal or whether persons actually can achieve this stage of multiculturalism.

We may reduce uncertainty without reducing anxiety. We reduce uncertainty by depending on positive stereotypes, favorable contact, shared networks, intergroup attitudes, a secure cultural identity, subsequent cultural similarity, developing a second language competence, and knowing about the host culture. "Reducing uncertainty also is influenced by the appropriate use of uncertainty reduction strategies, the display of nonverbal affiliative expressiveness, attraction, and intimacy. Reducing anxiety, in contrast, is affected by strangers' motivation, strangers' psychological differentiation, host nationals' attitudes toward strangers, and the host cultures' policy toward strangers".

Applications of the culture shock metaphor

Firstly, the visitor needs to recognize that any important life transition is likely to result in stress and discomfort as a usual and normal consequence. The pain of culture shock may be seen as less of a deficit or disease by recognizing it as a normal response to change.

Secondly, these visitors will need reassurance and support to maintain a healthy self-image and to restore their sense of self- efficacy

Thirdly, time must be allowed for the adjustment to take place without pressure or urgency.

Fourthly, recognizing the patterns of adjustment will help the visitor develop new skills and insights.

Fifthly, labeling the symptoms of culture shock will help the visitor interpret emotional responses to stress in adjustment.

Sixthly, being well adjusted at home does not ensure an easy adjustment in the foreign culture

Seventhly, Preparation might include language study, learning about the host culture, simulating situations to be encountered, and spending time with nationals from the host culture before travelling there.

Adapting culture differences in Taiwa

To date there has been a considerable amount of international students pursuing their study in Taiwan. Foreign students may find it difficult to adapt partly because they have to learn different aspects of life in their cross-cultural journey. Often, the way that they lived before is not considered as normal in other settings such as, eating habit, worshipping in your usual way, transportation. Everything is different, as new foreigners in Taiwan experience the cultural shock can be very interesting, also a whole of different feelings together. Many intercultural misunderstandings and conflicts occur, due in part to a lack of cultural and emotional of difference. For those who adapt successfully are more apt to accept differences, for example, Taiwanese sense of humor is very different, sometimes people get hurt or just does not realize it was a joke.

The value of friendship

One avenue of research has discovered that friendship may play significant role to enhance the adaptation of international students. Researchers suggest that having social connectedness decreased homesickness. Individuals who are able to regain more social support experience less homesickness (Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, & Van Heck, 1997). Communicating with people of a different ethnic group would help students to adapt local culture easier. International students usually prefer to be friends with their international students from other countries who are present locally, due to the ease of communication. However, a number of researchers claim that remaining close to one's culture of origin may actually retard adjustment to the new culture. International students with varying host national friendships reported that they are significantly more satisfied and feel more socially connected. Through social relations, individuals are able to acquire social resources from others (Lin, 2005). As La Fromboise, Coleman, and Gerton (1993) proposed, feelings of social support may sustain a continued sense of belongingness. Foreign students that were more comfortable and satisfied with their interactions with local people were also more satisfied with their study abroad experience in general (Klineberg & Hull, 1979). The Sociocultural Adaptation Scale (SCAS) (Searle and Ward 1990) has been presented as a reliable, valid instrument for the measurement of intercultural competence or behavioral adaptability. This has indicated that international students would be able to adapt local culture better through applying the following items into daily lives. Dealing with someone who is unpleasant; seeing things from the locals’ perspective; getting used to the pace of life; using the transport system.

How can counseling help you

With regard to counselling, international students are encouraged to seek advice from the counselling service for directions. Counsellors can help by recognizing the emotional effects of cross-cultural changes ranging from general fatigue, anxiety, depression, confusion and hostility through to rejection of the host culture. Therefore, it is normal to have “culture shock” symptoms described above. Many Counsellors with knowledge of contributing countries and themselves cross-culturally competent will be in a good position to help international students grow through the learning curve or bend of adapting a new culture.


Frombosie, T.D. La., Coleman,H.L.K, and Gerton,J. (1999). Psychological impact of biculturalism: Evidence and theory. Psychological Bulletin, 114(3),395-412.

Klineberg, O and Hull, W.F.(1979).At a foreign university: An international study of adaption and coping. New York: Oxford: Praeger.

Lin, N. (2005). Building a network theory of social capital. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pedersen, P. B.(1995). Pedersen, P. B.(1995). The five stages of culture shock-Critical incidents around the world. Westport,CT: Greenwood Press.

Searle, W and Ward, C. (1990). The prediction of psychological and sociocultural adjustment during cross-culture transitions. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14, 449-64.

Tilberg, M. A. L. Van., Vingerhoets, J. J. M, and Heck, Van G. L. (1997). Coping with Homesickness: The Construction of the Adult Homesickness Coping Questionnaire. Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 22, 901-07.

Sociocultural Adaptation Scale

These 29 items are proved to be related with cross-cultural adaption, you can try to examine how many items you have encountered or not.

  1. Making friends.
  2. Finding food that you enjoy.
  3. Following rules and regulations.
  4. Dealing with people in authority.
  5. Taking a Taiwanese perspective on the culture.
  6. Using the transport system.
  7. Dealing with the bureaucracy.
  8. Understanding the Taiwanese value system.
  9. Making yourself understood.
  10. Seeing things from a Taiwanese point of view.
  11. Going shopping.
  12. Dealing with someone who is unpleasant.
  13. Understanding jokes and humor.
  14. Accommodation.
  15. Going to social gatherings.
  16. Dealing with people staring at you.
  17. Communicating with people of a different ethnic group.
  18. Understanding ethnic or cultural differences.
  19. Dealing with unsatisfactory service.
  20. Worshipping.
  21. Relating to members of the opposite sex.
  22. Finding your way around.
  23. Understanding the Taiwanese political system.
  24. Talking about yourself with others.
  25. Dealing with the climate.
  26. Understanding the Taiwanese world view.
  27. Family relationships.
  28. The pace of life.
  29. Being able to see two sides of an inter-cultural issue.

SOURE:Ward, C., & Kennedy, A. (1999). The measurement of sociocultural adaptation. Intercultural Journal of Intercultural Relations, 23, 659-677.


A new schedule. Roommates. Kids. Sleepless nights. That annoying cold. A fight with your friend. Deadlines!!! Are you stressing you out? Let's face it, the world is a demanding place. Everyone gets stressed out, but it doesn't have to take over your life. There are ways that you handle what life throws at you.

What is Stress?

Stress is the way your body responds to the demands placed on it. Positive or "good" stress can help you concentrate and focus. In some instances, it actually increases your ability to survive. Your body's response to stress can be hormonal, such as an adrenaline rush. It can also be a rise in blood pressure, blood sugar, or body temperature. These physical reactions can often make you more alert, give you more acute eyesight or greater strength. That's how your body gives you what you need to act. Ideally, your body automatically relaxes after you have handled the situation. Your physical responses normalize and you are able to return to a state of rest. This process allows you to gather physical and emotional energy which helps you deal with changes and challenges in your daily life.

Your physical reaction to stress is the same for positive and negative stress, the difference is that with negative stress your body never returns to the "pre-stress" relaxed state. You remain tense or anxious which drains you of emotional and physical energy.


You are unique and managing stress in your life is about finding what works for you. True, stress is inevitable, but you do have options. You can choose how you are going to react to the situation in a way that will serve you in a positive manner. This is your decision and no one else gets the advantage of making this decision for you. One method that can help remind you of this is the SBRC or Stop-Breathe-Reflect-Choose. It only takes about 2 minutes, you can do it anywhere, and it can help you to reduce your negative (and harmful) reactions to stress.

The next time you encounter a stressful situation, try these four easy steps:

  • Stop - just for a few seconds stop what you are doing and the continuous flow of negative thoughts about the situation.
  • Breathe - take in a deep breath, feeling your abdomen rise and fall, releasing any tension in your body as you exhale.
  • Reflect - consider what is really going on. Is the situation a crisis? If so, will worrying and becoming tense help to solve it? Will this situation matter to you in two weeks? Six weeks? What action will really serve you in this particular situation? Is there anything productive that you can do to make the situation better? Make sure to ask yourself rational questions and listen to your rational answers (i.e. It might seem that getting upset with someone when they have upset you is a rational response. But, really look at the response and consider whether or not that will make the situation better or simply add to your stress level. In general, it will only cause situations to become more stressful when you are not considering all aspects of the situation and their consequences).

What can you do about stress?

The good news is that you can learn ways to manage stress. To get stress under control:

  • Find out what is causing stress in your life.
  • Look for ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
  • Learn healthy ways to relieve stress or reduce its harmful effects.

How do you measure your stress level?

Sometimes it is clear where stress is coming from. You can count on stress during a major life change such as the death of a loved one, getting married, or having a baby. But other times it may not be so clear why you feel stressed.
It's important to figure out what causes stress for you. Everyone feels and responds to stress differently. Keeping a stress journal may help. Get a notebook, and write down when something makes you feel stressed. Then write how you reacted and what you did to deal with the stress. Keeping a stress journal can help you find out what is causing your stress and how much stress you feel. Then you can take steps to reduce the stress or handle it better.

How can you avoid stress?

Stress is a fact of life for most people. You may not be able to get rid of stress, but you can look for ways to lower it.
You might try some of these ideas:

  • Learn better ways to manage your time. You may get more done with less stress if you make a schedule. Think about which things are most important, and do those first.
  • Find better ways to cope. Look at how you have been dealing with stress. Be honest about what works and what does not. Think about other things that might work better.
  • Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat well. Don't smoke. Limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Try out new ways of thinking. When you find yourself starting to worry, try to stop the thoughts. Work on letting go of things you cannot change. Learn to say "no."
  • Speak up. Not being able to talk about your needs and concerns creates stress and can make negative feelings worse. Assertive communication can help you express how you feel in a thoughtful, tactful way.
  • Ask for help. People who have a strong network of family and friends manage stress better.

Sometimes stress is just too much to handle alone. Talking to a friend or family member may help, but you may also want to see a counselor.

How can you relieve stress?

You will feel better if you can find ways to get stress out of your system. The best ways to relieve stress are different for each person. Try some of these ideas to see which ones work for you:

  • Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. Walking is a great way to get started.
  • Write. It can help to write about the things that are bothering you.
  • Let your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to with someone you trust.
  • Do something you enjoy. A hobby can help you relax. Volunteer work or work that helps others can be a great stress reliever.
  • Learn ways to relax your body. This can include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, massage, aromatherapy, yoga, or relaxing exercises like tai chi and qi gong.
  • Focus on the present. Try meditation, imagery exercises, or self-hypnosis. Listen to relaxing music. Try to look for the humor in life. Laughter really can be the best medicine.


Harvard University Health Services. (n.d.). Stress Management. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from

Healthwise staff. (2011). Stress Management. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from