Adjusting to a new country and culture

The process of adjusting to a new country and culture is called 'culture shock'. Culture shock occurs gradually and takes time and effort to process and overcome.

Understanding Australia's culture, people and law can go a long way to helping you adjust. You can learn about these topics on the Australian Government's Living in Australia website (opens in a new window).

What is culture?

Culture is the beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that we share within a particular group. It often includes language, locality, skin colour, religious beliefs, traditions, and values.

What is culture shock?

Culture shock is caused by an accumulation of stresses that occur from having to meet every day needs in an unfamiliar environment - by not having the cultural and social skills and knowledge of the culture you're in. It is not a breakdown of normal healthy psychological functioning.

Differences between your home culture and the new culture can prove challenging to navigate and naturally lead to feeling confronted or confused. It's very common to feel shy and be afraid of speaking in case you offend someone. Culture shock can be triggered by differences in everyday experiences including language, religion and religious expression, educational expectations and attitudes towards learning and even climate and food.

To find out more about culture shock visit the Worldwide Classroom website (opens in a new window).

How will culture shock affect me?

You may find that culture shock doesn't happen straight away, but develops over time. Your reaction will depend on whether you've had previous experience with the new culture and the amount of help available.

There are a lot of different feelings you might have as a result of culture shock. Some commonly reported effects are:

  • confusion or disorientation
  • feeling overwhelmed or lacking concentration
  • information overload
  • nervousness/irrational fears
  • muscle tension/body aches and pains
  • excessive tiredness or insomnia
  • apathy
  • anger and hostility towards host culture
  • frustration or overreaction to minor irritation
  • depression/withdrawal or avoiding social and study activities
  • excessive anger/tears
  • homesickness or over dependence upon others from home country
  • bad judgments/decision making or the
  • inability to make decisions or failure to act
  • paranoia

Culture shock isn't permanent. The length of time it lasts for is different for everyone, but most report living in Australia-culture shock is resolved within a few months.

Where can I get help?

There are some practical things you can do to help yourself settle in Australia. There are also some free services available at Western Sydney University that you might find helpful:

  • Student Welfare Service - for advice on visa matters when changing your enrolment, financial assistance, help with Western Sydney University policies and procedures and referral to other services.
  • Student Advisors are available at Student Central – a place to ask questions, get help and important information.
  • Counselling Service – free and confidential service for all students. The Counselling Service can help with culture shock or any other personal or study related issues
  • MATES – a mentoring program to help students adjust to university
  • Workshops – free workshops to help improve your academic and life skills

The Australian government also has some really good information on living in Australia and what to expect. Visit the Living in Australia website (opens in a new window) for more information.