It is important to learn the basics about your host country's culture, norms, and expectations before you study abroad. Learning as much as you can before you study abroad will help ease your adjustment as you arrive and settle in to your host country, and will help you be a good representative of the United States and UVM while abroad.

Remember, it is completely normal to feel a little overwhelmed or homesick while abroad- you are in a new place, outside of your comfort zone and normal routine. It takes some time to adjust, so be patient with yourself as you make this transition.

Making a good impression in your host culture

  • You should consider your host country's culture in deciding how to dress while you are abroad. It is important to be aware that certain items of clothing may be viewed as offensive to your host country's culture. Wearing clothing that is not typical of the host country may also call more attention to your foreign/American background, and might invite others to stereotype you negatively. Americans traveling or living abroad can be the subject of resentment or even violence due to the local perception of US government policies, so it's a good idea to blend in as much as possible and not call attention to yourself. Researching your host country’s dress and customs beforehand will allow you to be prepared for your time abroad and help ease your transition. By showing respect for the local culture and learning appropriate dress, it is more likely that you will be welcomed into the local community and as a result improve your experience abroad.
  • When communicating in another country it is important to pay attention to both your verbal communication and body language.
    • In many countries it is preferred that you attempt to speak the local language even if your skills are entry level. For example, you might want to try performing simple tasks like greeting people, ordering food, buying a bus ticket, etc. in your host country's language. It shows respect and a willingness to incorporate yourself into the local culture.
    • Body language varies between cultures. In the United States personal space is greatly valued when speaking with others, but many cultures have different norms about the amount of personal space necessary.  Greetings may be different in your host country than in the US. For example, in some cultures cheek kisses, forehead-to-forehead touches, or bowing are normal greeting behaviors, even for people you haven't met before.

Consider your own culture and American stereotypes

  • Think about your own cultural background and how it will impact your experience abroad. Knowing what you've learned about your host country's culture, are there any aspects of your values and expectations that you think differ from those of your host country? 
  • It is important to remember that preconceived notions of what Americans are like may impact your initial communication and relationship with locals in your host country. By taking into account the numerous negative and positive stereotypes you can help be a good representative of UVM by reinforcing the positive stereotypes and not the negative ones.

Stages of cultural adjustment

While at times it may be a stressful experience to go through, adapting to a new culture provides great opportunities for personal growth and development. Allow yourself time to adjust. The first few weeks may feel very difficult– this is perfectly normal. Most students do experience homesickness to some degree while abroad. Below are some stages of adjustment that you might go through, although not all stages are experienced by everyone.

  1. Honeymoon stage - When you first arrive, the differences you observe are new, exciting and interesting. You are optimistic and are likely to focus on the positive aspects of your new environment.
  2. Cultural stress - As some time passes, the differences that were once interesting have now become obstacles for you to get things done or communicate effectively. Sometimes your new cultural context can feel irritating, inefficient, or wrong. Around holidays, birthdays, or special events at home, you might feel homesick. 
  3. Adjustment period - Gradually, you begin to feel more oriented and comfortable in the new culture. Your confidence builds as you start to adjust to the differences and expand your circle of friends.
  4. Adaptation - You are fully immersed in routines and feel part of the community. This will be similar to when Burlington became your home.

These stages are present at different times and each person has their own way of reacting. Some stages will be longer and more difficult than others, and this is different for each person. Many factors contribute to how you move through this process, including mental health, type of personality, previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the language, family and/or social support systems, and other factors. 

Suggestions for a smoother cultural adjustment

  • Be aware that other countries’ education systems may be very different than the U.S. (e.g., course/class structure, feedback, grading and organization).
  • Be patient with yourself as you transition into life in your host country. This is not an easy transition to make, and everyone experiences some tough times as a part of this. Practice self-care and give yourself time to adjust.
  • Remain open-minded, respectful and curious to enjoy and learn the most through your experience. When you meet someone, listen to what they have to say—be respectful and reserve judgment of them and/or their country. Remember that just as your opinion may not reflect that of your home country and everyone in it, the opinions of individuals you meet do not represent their entire country’s population.
  • Resist the temptation to disparage your host country. You do not have to agree with the way that locals view things or do things, but criticizing things in your environment could cause feelings of unhappiness. Begin to consciously look for logical reasons for anything in the host country that seems strange, confusing, or threatening. There is a reason why locals do things differently than people do in your country.
  • Overcome the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) you might feel about life back home. Remember that you are embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one that - for all its good and bad moments- is very temporary. While you are abroad, even when things might feel tough, try and learn something you can take back to your normal life.
  • Get out of your room and explore your local area. Engaging with your host city and host culture will make you feel better than isolating yourself in your room or apartment. Put down the Netflix, Whatsapp, and Skype- and go outside!
  • Go out and meet people from your host country.  Getting to know them will enhance your experience!
  • Maintain a sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself and at the predicaments you get into.
  • Find people who can be understanding and sympathetic to your situation, with whom you can share your feelings of confusion. This person can be your “cultural informant” and help explain things to you about the local culture and lifestyle.
  • Participate in activities and hobbies you would normally do at home. This will help you manage stress. If those activities are not available in your host country, try to find an activity that gives you the same feeling of happiness or relaxation.
  • Record your experience. Journaling and blogging can help you process your experiences and provide a means of self-discovery. Once you've returned home, you will be able to look back upon your term abroad more easily with a written record of it. It can also give your family and friends a window into what your experience was like.
  • If you feel that your mental health and well-being are suffering, seek help and resources from your host university and/or program provider. Mental health can suffer during the transition to a new culture, and it's important to use the resources you have available so that you can have a successful experience abroad.