Two common experiences of the world traveler include Culture Shock and Homesickness. Please read these descriptions to see how you might help your student cope with these issues.
Making a major transition in life requires some period of time for adjustment to the new circumstances. Even moving to a new city, changing schools or jobs - anything that alters a student’s accustomed patterns of thought and behavior can cause some "transition shock," which can be mild or severe depending on the circumstances.
The term "culture shock" was coined to describe a specific type of reaction that can occur when people travel abroad or confront ways of life substantially different from their own. Culture shock is caused by the stress of entering and adjusting to an unfamiliar culture. It has been called an "occupational hazard" of travelers and is a well-documented side effect of encountering cultural difference. To some extent, the degree of culture shock experienced varies depending on how different the country is in contrast to your own, combined with the level of education that your student has gained about his/her host country and its culture. Of course, personal factors and your student’s goals for traveling abroad will influence how quickly and appropriately they can "fit in" and, therefore, the level of culture shock they will feel. Learn more
Homesickness, it's universal. Psychologists call it "separation anxiety" and few people are immune. It is experienced by the kindergartner going off to school, as well as the business person starting a new job. Similarly, a student studying abroad may encounter homesickness to varying degrees during their study abroad experience. These are the steps that your student will usually go through to cope with homesickness. Recognize these steps and support your student throughout. The worst solution is to buy them a one-way ticket home!
To cope with homesickness, your student will...
- Admit that they have it. Much of what they know and can rely on is back home. Homesickness is a natural response to this sense of loss.
- Talk about it with an older sibling or friend who has gone away from home. It takes strength to accept the fact that something is bothering them and to confront it.
- Bring familiar items from home to their new location. Photos, plants, even stuffed animals help to give one a sense of continuity and ease the shock of a new environment.
- Gain familiarity with their new surroundings. Walk around. They will feel more in control if they know where buildings, classes, and services are.
- Invite people along to explore. Making friends is a big step to alleviating homesickness.
- Want to hear about life back home, so write them reports of your family's activities and new experiences. Let them know you'd like to hear from them, too.
- Plan a date to go home and make arrangements. This often helps curtail impulsive returns and keeps them focused on their goals in staying.
- Examine their expectations. We'd all like to be popular, well-dressed, well-organized, well-adjusted. Well, we're not. Setting a goal of perfection is the most predictable way of creating trouble for your student. They need to laugh at their mistakes. They're learning!
- Seek new opportunities. As scary as it is to see all those people, all those classes, all those buildings, all those choices, they will provide opportunities to meet people who like what your student likes. Encourage your student to take classes that they are interested in and to get involved in their favorite activity, or try new ones.
- Do something. Don't wait for it to go away by itself. Buried problems often emerge later disguised as headaches, fatigue, illness, or lack of motivation. Be cognizant of the health status of your student while he/she is abroad.
The BEST way to help your student overcome homesickness is to keep encouraging them!