culture shock

Many international students experience culture shock in varying ways when they come to the United States for college.

An Iowa State student and staff member shared their experiences with culture shock and how every international student undergoes this process when they come to Iowa State.

According to Verto Education, culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life or set of attitudes. 

Navya Mannengi, international student engagement coordinator for the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), said international students often struggle with culture shock when they are subjected to a new life that has different values than what they are used to.

Mannengi came to the United States from India at the age of 5 and has been here since, but she said she still struggles with the effects of culture shock. 

"Culture shock isn’t something that just happens as soon as you arrive. Almost 25 years later I’m still experiencing that shock," she said. 

Pearly Das, a sophomore in apparel, merchandising and design, is an international student from India. She struggled with culture shock when she came to Iowa State, but said she was able to overcome her challenges. She is currently a student leader for the International First Year Experience (IFYE). 

IFYE is a required seminar class for all incoming undergraduate international students. The class helps international students with their transition to Iowa State by providing academic resources and social opportunities.

In the class, Das teaches international students about culture shock and other topics relevant to their transition to Iowa State.

She said experiencing culture shock can feel like you’re living someone else’s life.

"When they’re going through the culture shock phase, people don’t feel like they belong here," Das said.

Culture shock can be particularly challenging for students who are concerned about both their social and academic lives when they come to Iowa State. 

"[Coping with culture shock] occupies a lot of your energy and mind, which can distract you from studying," Das said. "I would be stressing about class and about making friends."

She said adjusting to American culture overwhelmed her during her first semester. 

"I felt so hopeless because I felt like this was my dream […] and I wasn’t doing good enough," Das said. 

Her brother, who was an international student before her, helped her adjust while she was experiencing culture shock.

Das said she also looked forward to trips home to get her through the hardest times she had adjusting to the new culture at Iowa State. 

However, students can also struggle with culture shock when they return home after adapting to United States culture. 

"[Culture shock] stays with you for life, because even when you go back home to your home country you go through culture shock again because you’ve changed," Mannengi said. 

Balancing between two conflicting cultures can cause students to question their identity because the lifestyle they were used to is no longer the norm. 

"The deeper parts of culture shock that don’t get talked about a lot are identity changes and dealing with values that clash between cultures," Mannengi said. 

Das said she experienced this clash between cultures when she came to Iowa State. The contrast between the value of individualism in American culture and collectivism in Indian culture was surprising to her.

"You grow up with a certain set of values and identities that become like an anchor and you hold onto that anchor and suddenly it's just gone. You don’t have that anchor anymore," Mannengi said. 

She said students who are struggling with how to identify within two cultures should figure out what feels right to them, but simply assimilating to the new culture is not the solution.

"Create an identity that you are proud of. You get to experience two cultures and pick the best out of both," Mannengi said. 

She said international students struggling with culture shock can find support through the ISSO, as well as campus counseling if they are experiencing depression or other symptoms.

Facebook groups can also provide a sense of community for many international students, since they are groups tailored to specific groups of people.

Mannengi said she is a part of a Facebook group for South Asian women, where she seeks advice from people who had similar experiences to her. 

"If you are feeling any symptom of culture shock, know that you are not alone," Mannengi said. 

She suggested that students talk about their struggles and not isolate themselves from others. She also recommended that students find ways to bring their culture and parts of home with them so they can embrace their roots when they feel isolated. 

"Find just a few people that you can be very authentic with. So, if you do miss home, you can share your culture with them," she said.

International students experiencing culture shock can reach out or use the online resources provided by the International Students and Scholars Office.

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