Many students face pressure to succeed academically when they attend a post-secondary institution. In addition to these pressures, international students often also face the challenge of transitioning to a new academic and social culture. Social and cultural wellness is an important aspect of your overall health and a major factor in your academic success. As such, it is very important to proactively address cultural transition issues.

If cultural transition issues are overwhelming you and interfering with your studies or personal life, there are people at Lethbridge College who can help.

  • Access the Student Support Program (SSP) provided by Shepell·fgi to speak to a counsellor online or over the phone, or to make a face-to-face appointment.
  • Talk to an advisor about academic options and other services available on campus to facilitate your transition.

Culture shock

It is common to experience culture shock when you are in a foreign setting. Culture shock is a normal reaction to a new and unknown environment. You may experience a range of emotions when adapting to a foreign culture, from excitement and curiosity to depression, frustration and fear. Culture shock is a term used to describe the feeling of disorientation that people have when they encounter unfamiliar surroundings and conditions.

What are the symptoms of culture shock?

People may experience culture shock in a number of different ways, which are unique to their situation, but almost everyone is affected by it in one way or another. Symptoms may vary, but can include:

  • longing to be back home
  • boredom
  • withdrawal (e.g. spending excessive amounts of time alone)
  • feeling isolated or helpless
  • sleeping a lot or tiring easily
  • feeling of anger over minor irritations
  • suffering from body pains and aches
  • feelings of criticism towards local customs or traditions

What are the four stages of culture shock?

  1. The honeymoon stage
    • Typically, this stage takes place during the first few days or weeks. You are very positive, curious and anticipate new exciting experiences. Everything and everyone is new and exciting.
  2. Irritability and hostility
    • You start to feel that what was once different and exciting is now different and frustrating. You may blame your frustrations on the new culture rather than on the adaptation process.
    • During this phase, you may feel the desire to withdraw from friends and social situations. You may also feel sadness, homesickness and fatigue.
    • During this stage, it is important to utilize the support systems that we offer on campus, such as counselling.
  3. Gradual adjustment
    • You start to feel more relaxed within your new environment and you develop a more balanced, objective view of the experience.
    • You become more familiar with the customs, food, culture, people and language.
  4. Adaptation of biculturalism
    • You feel a new sense of belonging within your host country. You are now able to compare the positive and negative aspects of your host culture with your own culture.
    • You should feel less like a foreigner and begin to view your host country as a second home.

Coping with culture shock

The more that you familiarize yourself with your host culture, the more you will begin to understand the traditions and practices. There are many ways to find information on social issues, customs, geography and history of your host country. You can find a variety of information about Canada on the internet or by reading Canadian travel books.

Tips for dealing with culture shock

  • Talk to other international students who can give you advice based on their own experiences.
  • Decorate your room with objects that remind you of home.
  • Create a list of things you wish to accomplish during your stay in Canada. Include destinations you wish to see and activities that you wish to participate in. For example, you may wish to visit Banff National Park or try out downhill skiing.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends from back home.
  • Give yourself time to adapt, and allow yourself to feel sad about the things you have left behind.
  • Get out there! Make friends and try to meet locals. A great way to meet other students is to attend events organized on campus.
  • Take up a hobby that will help you learn more about Canada. Hiking can be a great way to experience the outdoors and see some of the local wildlife and countryside.
  • Volunteer in community activities that will allow you to get involved in the community and perhaps practise your English.
  • If there's something you did at home to help relieve stress, try to keep up with it while you are here – whether that’s exercise, writing in a journal or other activities.

Understanding Canadians

Canadians are a diverse group, with many different ethnicities and customs. While it is difficult to describe all Canadians, there are some common customs and values that Canadians tend to share.

Politeness and fairness

Almost every satire of Canadians on television includes how they are overly polite. This is definitely not the worst reputation to have, and it is also not far from the truth. Canadians value politeness, and include “please” and “thank you” in many social situations.

Canadians are often apologetic, and may even say “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” if someone else has bumped into them. Canadians tend to be non-confrontational, and they are uncomfortable in situations where someone is being rude or aggressive.

Lining up for services is customary and something that many Canadians feel strongly about. The belief that the first person to arrive should be the first person served is primary practice. Jumping ahead in line or not lining up at all can cause Canadians to feel frustrated or uncomfortable.

Personal space and privacy

Canadians value personal space. When speaking and interacting, Canadians tend to allow for an arm’s length of distance between themselves and the people they are engaging with.

Many Canadians will engage in polite conversation with strangers, however the topics of discussion remain relatively neutral in order to respect one’s privacy. Topics of casual conversation will typically be about topics such as the weather or sports, while tending to avoid sensitive subjects like money, politics and status.

Tolerance, sensitivity and political correctness

Canadians tend to be a diverse mix of multicultural citizens with diverse beliefs and practices. Therefore, Canadians tend to avoid actions or speaking in ways that can be interpreted as disrespectful or insulting to others.

Canadians tend to take a liberal stance on social and political issues. This mentality is what makes Canada such a tolerant and accepting place to live.

Eye contact is a sign of honesty/sincerity

Canadians maintain a certain level of eye contact during conversation, which communicates trust and understanding between those conversing. Eye contact is by no means required at all times; however, Canadians tend to interpret it as friendly and welcoming.

Punctuality

Canadians value their time and expect others to be run according to schedule as well. Whether for classes, work, meetings or scheduled events, it is considered respectful to arrive on time or, in some instances, early.

Academic culture

During your time at Lethbridge College, you will interact with a number of professionals who are here to assist you with your academic goals and success. From the time you apply to Lethbridge College through to the time you graduate, you will likely work together with admissions specialists, academic advisors, instructors, program chairs, service specialists and more.

It is important that you take the time to become familiar with the services that we offer on campus, so you are fully aware of all of the people who are available to assist you.

Instructors

The relationships between instructors and students in Canada can sometimes seem more relaxed and informal than in other countries. Typically, an instructor will inform students of the necessary formalities at the beginning of the semester.

It is not unusual in Canada for instructors to ask students to refer to them by their first name. However, if an instructor prefers to be referred to by a different title, he/she will typically make students aware of this in the first class. Student-faculty relationships may be more informal than in your home country.

Office hours

Your instructors will usually have set office hours when they make time to meet individually with students. Some instructors will prefer to have you schedule a time to meet with them in advance, while others may allow for meetings on a drop-in basis.

Instructors will clarify their preference for office hours at the beginning of the term. You may meet with your instructors to discuss a number of issues, such as concerns about the course, questions about deadlines and other elements that may affect your ability to be successful in their course.

Career and Academic Advising

Career and academic advisors provide information regarding academic planning, support for students, program and career options, and college policies and practices, including:

  • admissions
  • graduation
  • transfers
  • program outcomes

Advisors are available to see students for pre-booked appointments and drop-in appointments, as well as by phone or email. Drop-in or book your appointment today.