Previous risk factors that increase the cultural shock

"Why do some foreign college students have difficulty adjusting when they study abroad?"

There is no magic recipe to prevent the difficulties that a student who is studying abroad temporarily will suffer. However, ​​after more than 450 conversations with foreign university students, I have observed that they share some common previous factors that hinder them for adjusting properly to an unexpected reality. Among them:

  • In the past, they have had difficulty adapting to new contexts (eg has find it hard to adjust to a new school, to a change of residence, to high school, to college, etc.).
  • They have experienced anxiety when being exposed to changes
  • It is the first time they are so far from their families and usually struggle when they are away from them.
  • In social situations they usually feel mighty anxious and can't avoid be continuously self-centred. Such anxiety tends to increase especially if they are new social situations.
  • They fear big cities.
  • They suffer anxiety when things are not under control.

How can we take these factors into account to help students in their adaptation?

While these previous factors do not act as a universal law, which always take place, they are actually patterns of the past. This implies that they are highly likely to be repeated again during their stay. So if the universities that host foreign students, Study Abroad Programs, teachers and students themselves are aware of them, they may be alert, act quicker and offer sooner the support needed to successfully adapt to this adventure that entails studying abroad.

Myths about anxiety

"I am anxious, when I lay down to sleep I cannot stop mulling things over, my heart beats so fast it seems to jump out of my chest, I am running out of air and am sure will suffer a heart attack ...".

Often, life situations places us out of our comfort zone and confronts us with our own resources. It is common to think that by aging we learn to have things under control and that the experience of going through many situations is an antidote to suffering and anxiety.

Anxiety, due to its disabling and annoying symptoms, is seen as the bad cop, and is often closely related to the next prejudices:

• Anxiety is the enemy to fight against.


As any painful, disturbing and inexplicable feeling, our first natural reaction is to try to get rid of it. However, if we take advantage of it and read between the lines, anxiety can be taken as a sign of alarm. It can be a useful source of information that reveals that something is not working properly, that there are situations that fracture our balance. It might be the reflect of pending internal conflicts.

• Sure there is a way of controlling anxiety through my thoughts!

Another extended believe I hear frequently is the statement "sure there is a way to control anxiety through controlling my thoughts"… as if there were a magic phrase, a mental trick (for instance to draw a blank) or a talisman that as a plaster can avoid such discomfort. Unfortunately, the rational control is not always able to fight emotionally based issues.

In these cases, the best way to reduce anxiety and prevent future episodes, is to find its origin to understand where it steams from, confront it and find a better outlet (accept what it going on, take action, etc.). Only by confronting the underlying issue, anxiety can be eradicated.