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Adjusting to University Life

Content Team
Content Team
Get essential news and information about international higher education from the i-STUDENTglobal content team.

What can you expect once you are on the other side of the crisis stage of culture shock? You no longer have serious thoughts of leaving or transferring although you may have the occasional day when you wonder if you really have made the right decision to be here. Your ‘good’ days now outnumber the ‘bad.’ This doesn’t mean everything is all rosy and cheery. The ups and downs will continue, but they will not seem as chaotic or powerful as they were when you were in the throes of culture shock.

The First Stage

Once you have either consciously or unconsciously decided you are going to settle in this place and become a part of it, you have begun the “Entering Stage” of the transition cycle. But those chaotic emotions we talked about in the phases of culture shock can continue.

Self-doubt can set in when you feel you are not relating well to others. You can become self-conscious about everything. At times your actions, words or behaviours may be misinterpreted. Your cultural signals don’t work in this place so you become fearful of making mistakes and have to think twice before saying or doing anything that might bring another round of laughter.


Grief gets recycled and revisited. Grief processing is a continuous exercise that can be cyclic. Something reminds you of home – a smell, a sound, a song – and you are momentarily swept back home. It is again time to name those losses, spend time with the grief associated with the loss, bring them to closure, and move forward.

The Second Low Point

There tends to be a second “crisis” in the adjustment process that can come as a complete surprise. It catches you off guard because you thought you were finished with feeling sad. It tends to show up somewhere around three to four months or more into your transition, but it could be anytime, especially if there is a holiday in your home country when families come together to celebrate and you can’t be there.

The second “crisis” typically isn’t as difficult as the first one you experienced while you were going through culture shock, but it is enough to make you feel blue or depressed. It also doesn’t usually last as long. Some people just have one or two days when they feel down. Once you recognize it for what it is and remember that it is temporary, you will know you can get through it. Take it easy on yourself.

Nice to meet you!

You know a few people from your dorm, the international student groups, or your classes but not well. You may have found other students from your country you can hang out with, but maybe you haven’t found that really good friend yet. The Entering Stage is a time when you are constantly introducing yourself, looking for someone you have something in common with.

You are feeling like it is time to find people you can really connect with so the introducing will continue for quite some time. You are beginning to look for groups, clubs, or activities to get involved in. You are ready to reach out and see what all this place has to offer you.

You need to step out of your comfort zone and begin the introductions rather than wait for others to initiate them. Everyone is new and wants to find a good friend. Now is not the time to give in to shyness or fear that you will be rejected. There may be someone who is just waiting and hoping someone will want to get to know them too.

Unpack your mind

This is the time you feel ready to unpack your mind. Up until now, you have been in the survival mode. You’ve been busy taking in all that is new and different, learning the social and cultural rules of the new community. Things are no longer overwhelming and chaotic, but you may still have your moments of self-doubt.

Don’t be surprised when, after the dust settles from the chaos of transition, you begin to succumb to coughs, colds, flu, or other physical ailments. Your body has been producing constant amounts of adrenaline to respond to the stress associated with this stage, and just when you are beginning to feel a bit more comfortable in your new environs and are more relaxed, you start feeling the effects of being in such a heightened state of alertness and readiness for so long. Your protective reflexes are down, tired out, and you start to feel fatigued or become ill. Now is the time to take care of yourself.


Once the heightened alertness of the survival mode settles down, you begin to find the time, energy, and interest to really connect with people. Up to this point, your relationships have been fairly superficial. You have been meeting so many people at once and been receptive to all of them, but you haven’t had the opportunity to develop deep relationships just yet.

Although you have the desire to settle in, it is still a stressful time. It is important to prevent stress from building up and impacting your body by getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting some exercise. Spend time doing things you enjoy and bring you energy. Before you know it, this place will begin to feel more like home.


Special thanks to Tina L. Quick for providing us with this article. Tina is the author of two extraordinary books dedicated to international students going to study in America: Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. and The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.