While Abroad

Cultural Adjustment Abroad

Studying broad is a thrilling experience and is often referenced by study abroad alumni as the most valuable experience of one’s life.  You will probably arrive in your host country feeling optimistic, enthusiastic, and experience feelings of excitement. However, study abroad can also be disorienting and disruptive. In the first weeks when you arrive on-site it is not uncommon to experience surprise, dismay, and even anxiety as a result of the cultural differences associated with a new location and the unfamiliar situations in which you find yourself.  Your program will offer on-site orientation specific to your host country to familiarize you with cultural differences you may encounter while studying abroad in your host country.  It is designed to help you ease into this transition, to introduce you to your new environment and culture, and to provide you resources to feel more comfortable. These initial feelings of discomfort and insecurity are not unusual and after time will dissipate.

Everyone experiences cultural adjustment differently, with varying emotional and physical reactions to the experience. You will likely find that you and your peers may have many similar  emotions and feelings to the transition, but keep in mind your experience and cultural learning is unique to you. Understanding the common stages of cultural adjustment will allow you to recognize that what you are feeling is  normal and part of the cultural learning process.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Be aware of what you are experiencing. If you encounter any difficulties or discomfort which prevent you from being successful, discuss this with your on-site administrators or the UIC Study Abroad Office.
  • Cultural adjustment varies by program.
  • Cultural transitions can trigger or exacerbate mental health challenges or conditions.  If you have seen a mental health provider in the past, inform them of your plans to travel abroad and discuss mitigation and coping techniques with them,
  • Know that many students share the same feelings and experiences as you.

Cultural Miscommunications

Throughout your time in your host country, you may experience cultural bumps. A Cultural Bump occurs when a person has expectations of a particular behavior and gets something different when interacting with individuals from another culture.  When there are miscommunications due to differing cultural norms and language barriers it can result in a potentially unpleasant difference.  However, these cultural bumps are also learning opportunities and can result in cultural and/or linguistic growth. We encourage you to ask questions and follow-up if there is anything unclear.

Tips for Cultural Adjustment

  • Take care of yourself physically and maintain your normal exercise routines
  • Give yourself permission to feel bad
  • Don’t make major decisions impulsively
  • Observe and reflect on your surroundings
  • Establish a support network of peers, friends, staff, and instructors
  • Recognize that culture is relative
  • Reach out to the UIC Study Abroad Office or local staff for guidance if you are struggling
  • Ask questions and clarify when you are uncertain
  • Connect with locals and make new friends
  • Be patient with your adjustment– it takes time
  • It’s ok to make mistakes
  • Be open-minded to new experiences and people

Communicating While Abroad

Phones

All students will be required by their program to have a local phone or phone from your home country with an international coverage while studying abroad.  While you will not be forced to purchase/have a working phone, we highly encourage you to do so for your convenience and added safety benefits.  Usually students either opt to purchase a local SIM card that can be inserted into an unlocked phone or utilize an international plan from your home country. If you choose to purchase a local SIM card, your program partner will assist you in making these arrangements when when you arrive on-site. Be sure to make sure your phone is unlocked before traveling abroad.  We recommend you choose the local SIM card as it is far more reliable and cost effective.

Set Up A Communication Plan

Internet Availability and Phone Service

Helpful Applications to Stay Connected

  • Facebook & Instagram
  • WiiChat
  • Whatsapp
  • GroupMe
  • Google Voice
  • Hello Talk