The impact of culture shock on international students


When international students embark on a new adventure in a foreign college, they hope to expand both their academic knowledge and their knowledge of the world. However, they can sometimes be overwhelmed by the unexpected.

All students starting university can sometimes feel like they have entered a completely new and unfamiliar environment, but this can be even more pronounced for international students.

“When I came here from Colombia with my family, I did not even know how to approach and talk to people because I noticed the communication styles and emotional expressions differed from what I was used to,” said Fanshawe student Gina Bocanegra. “I felt like coming to Canada was probably not a good decision. Being and looking positive was tricky because I did not want to drag my family into that cultural uncertainty.”

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She stated that she was worried about adapting to Canada’s educational system, weather, and overall culture.

Student advisors can help students understand and overcome culture shock to make their time more enjoyable. Advisors must comprehend the social and individual qualities that may impact a student’s experience.

“What usually happens is international students start missing stuff from home like their family, friends and relatives or even the activities they used to do. This is when they start questioning themselves: Why should I be here? Why should I start over again? Why did I move to Canada to study something I could have studied back home?” said Fanshawe International and Regional Specialist Nelson Melgar. “They start looking at what they left behind that they limit their opportunity to look at what is ahead.”

Melgar said that when students do not find comfort or something that reminds them of home, they can fall into depression and uncertainty, which affects their relationships and academic performance in the long term. That is why most of the time, is crucial to maintain connections with home and family.

According to a study published in Sciencedirect, international students’ cultural shock is divided into four stages: the excitement and exploring stage, the irritation and frustrating stage, the adjust azznd learning stage and the adapt and accepting stage.

“All international students will feel culture shock at some point and to varying degrees. The time to expect to get over these culture shocks depends on the student. Some might take a month, six months, or even a year. It depends on how they manage their emotions, feelings and time,” Melgar said.

He stated that there are multicultural counsellors in Fanshawe to help students feel more comfortable and express themselves better.

“To express your feelings and your frustration, you need to say it in your language because that is what you are, and we understand that,” Melgar said.

Melgar said that to be an effective member of society in Canada, people need to be conscious of their time. That is how Canadians operate and is what is expected from everybody eventually.

“Culturally here in Canada, students must be functional and reliable because that is how the system operates. They can see that with the bus system,” Melgar said.

He stated that social engagement could be different for some in Canada, especially for Latin American people.

“I am Latin, and I know we are touchy people. Here in Canada, people follow social boundaries; when people talk, they keep a half-metre away from each other. That, here, is a normal communication style,” Melgar said.

He added that culture shock could be attributed to different factors, but that asking, reading and researching with good sources can help minimize its impact. Melgar said that in the current generation, people usually go with what they see and read on social media, and they assume that is the reality.

“They do not research what is happening in reality, which leads them to create a false perception. If they do not know how to handle that shock, it can become disappointment, and if they do not know how to handle that disappointment, it can become depression,” Melgar said. “If you are a student struggling, come to our offices, we can help. You must come and let us know, otherwise, we would never know. If you are a student planning to come in the future, join our online sessions, which we do regularly.”