Culture Shock/Homesickness

Culture shock and homesickness both involve emotional, psychological, and physiological reactions people have in response to being out of a familiar environment. Please see below for information on both of these experiences.

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Culture shock is an experience people can have when they move to an unfamiliar environment and typically involves a disorientation in recognizing and adjusting to different cultural norms.  It frequently occurs in response to moving to another country but can also happen in any situation when a person moves to a place that seems entirely different to what the person has experienced before (e.g., moving from a rural to urban environment or vice versa, moving to a large school from a smaller one, moving from a place that was very culturally diverse to one that is not).

Homesickness is a reaction to leaving home (a familiar environment), whereas culture shock is a reaction to the new environment that can accompany homesickness or stand alone as a concern.  Many people, even from far-away places, can experience culture shock without homesickness, or homesickness without culture shock.  With culture shock, the main focus is to adapt to the new environment, whereas with homesickness the emphasis is the adjustment of being away from the familiar one.

No.  These concerns are not experienced by everyone but are considered to be more typically experienced compared to diagnosed mental health conditions.  Further, the conditions themselves are created by environmental changes and factors and not necessarily personal factors.  However, in some people, these experiences can exacerbate or lead to the onset of mental health disorders that can create significant impacts to a person’s functioning; for example, homesickness affecting clinical depression or anxiety.

If someone believes they have experienced a significant disruption to their daily functioning due to depression or a mood disorder, then it is best to pursue mental health counseling for the concern.  In this case, a trained professional can meet with the person to determine what clinical remediation options would best fit for the person.  These options could be ongoing talk therapy, medication, coping skills training, group counseling, and referrals to other professionals to determine the scope and depth of the problem.  As far homesickness and culture shock themselves, talk therapy may be helpful given the unique aspects of each person’s cultural background and the benefits in sharing this with another person or group of people.  This person or people do not have to be mental health professionals (though it certainly can be!) but any trusted campus professional (e.g., academic advisor) or campus organization (even student organizations).

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Last modified: 08/12/2021