Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Adjusting to a New Culture

It is normal for international students, new to the U.S., to face cultural adjustment issues, due to a lack of understanding and familiarity.

"Culture Shock," is the term often used when explaining the feelings of anxiety, or change in behavior, attitude, or emotion, that one might experience when trying to adjust to a foreign culture.

Common Signs of Culture Shock:

  • Feeling frustrated or overwhelmed easily
  • Feeling lonely, sad, and possibly homesick
  • Not able to sleep, or sleeping too much; change in appetite
  • Physically not feeling "right" (head or stomach aches, body pains)
  • Over-dependent on others; not wanting to be alone
  • Feeling lost, not a part of new culture, lack of understanding of how things work or how to behave

Phases of Culture Shock

Honeymoon Phase: Usually occurs during the first few weeks or months living in the new environment.

In this phase, excitement about new changes are often present and interest to learn about the new culture, "everything is exciting!"

Shock Phase: After the excitement lessens, differences in the new culture becomes more noticeable.

In this phase, feelings of frustration may arise because attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are different. Students may begin to feel "homesick"; missing all the good things from their native culture and seeing what is "wrong," in new culture.

Gaining Understanding Phase: Student begins to feel more comfortable in new culture, things start to look familiar.

In this phase, connections are being made (e.g. new friends, neighbors, instructors, advisors). A sense of humor may develop to make light of differences. Also, students may begin to feel more positively toward others and towards accomplishing goals within the new environment.

Acceptance Phase: Student accepts there are "good" and "bad" aspects of every culture (including host and native culture).

In this phase, a solid sense of belonging and confidence in new environment is developing. In addition, students may begin to enjoy the challenges and benefits of their foreign experience.

Strategies for Surviving Cultural Adjustment


1. Take Care of Yourself

  • Eat healthy meals
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Exercise
  • Be patient with yourself, your new culture, and the different phases of adjustment
  • Talk to someone if you are feeling stressing or overwhelmed
  • Listen to music
  • Hang out with friends
  • Laugh & have fun
  • Stay open-minded about new experiences, new cultures, and learning from other people
  • Think positively
  • Get involved on campus

2. Know Who Supports You & Use These Supports

  • International Student Advisors
  • Instructors
  • Parents, Other Family Members, Friends

3. Become Familiar with Portland Community College (PCC) Campus Resources

  • Visit the Office of International Education
  • Check your MYPCC email for activity listings and things happening on campus
  • Get involved with PCC's International Student Club or Student Government
  • Meet with a counselor to discuss any personal concerns or issues
  • Visit one of PCC's Student Learning Centers (for help writing papers, tutoring for math and other subjects)
  • Visit the ESOL Tutoring Center on your campus
  • Find out your instructors office hours


*If you are having a medical emergency:

  • On campus, during school hours: dial 971-722-4444
  • Off campus, dial 9-1-1
  • For after-hours non-medical emergencies, call the Office of International Education Emergency Phone at 971-266-9356