NanoJapan IREU \\ Cultural Adjustment Abroad
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Cultural Adjustment Abroad

Take Good Care of Yourself

There is so much to do and see overseas that many students who go abroad have a tendency to try to cram everything in a very limited amount of time. Make time for adequate rest, especially during your first week abroad. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, eat well, and drink plenty of fluids or water. Tap water is safe to drink in Japan though bottled water and other beverages are redily available from vending machines or at the conveninence store.

Schedule in time for regular exercise, particularly if this is something you do back home. Jogging or running is a good physical activity and can help you explore Tokyo or your host city. During the research internship there may be an on-campus gym or pool that you can access - check with your lab group mentor or lab secretary. Daily physical activity is an important part of staying healthy and well-adjusted while overseas.

Cultural Adjustment & Exploration

Living and learning overseas successfully usually means adjustment to a different lifestyle, food, climate, and time zone, often accompanied by the necessity of learning to communicate in Japaense. This process is never easy and can include mood swings alternating between heady exhilaration and mild depression. In the early weeks, you will probably feel excited about your new experiences and environment. Soon, you may find the excitement of new surroundings and sensations increasingly replaced by frustration with how different things are from home.

Culture Shock

People usually experience many emotions while adapting to a foreign culture, changing from excitement and interest in the new culture to depression and fear of the unknown. The difficulties that you experience as you integrate into a new society can be a result of what is termed "culture shock." Most experts agree that culture shock, although often delayed, is inevitable in one form or another. But adjusting to a foreign culture, and living through difficult times of change can be a satisfying experience, one worth the occasional discomfort and extra effort.

Attitudes come in a wide variety, ranging from broad and pervasive cultural attitudes to the most specific and personal attitudes. Because of the scope of this subject, it is probably the most difficult to discuss. However, because the attitudes you take with you to Japan, and those you form once there, will have such a great effect upon your perception of the people and ways of your host country, it is very important for you to be aware of the role attitudes play in your overseas experience.

Normally, attitudes exist on a more or less subconscious level. When faced with a new situation, most people will recognize their reaction to it, but not necessarily the underlying attitude responsible for that particular reaction.

When we deal with people who share the same basic cultural attitudes as ourselves, the system works well: the differences in attitude between two Americans, broadly speaking, are far more likely to be of the specific and personal kind than the cultural kind. When we interact with people of different nationalities, however, the problem arises. Communications break down because their cultural attitudes are fundamentally different than ours, and the results are often feelings of confusion and hostility on both sides. This situation is called "culture shock." This can be a misleading term.

One tends to get the impression that "culture shock" is some kind of disease that everyone routinely catches and after a certain length of time, recovers from, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There are people who go overseas and never recover from this condition despite the length of their stay. This is because "culture shock" is actually caused by the aforementioned mismatch of cultural attitudes, not by some virus, as sometimes seems to be implied. And it's easily seen that the traveler who doesn't maintain an open mind, and doesn't invest any effort trying to understand a foreign culture, is always going to be in a state of shock. Such people had best stay at home, for if they rigidly hold onto their own attitudes, they will -- in reality - have never left!

An underlying cause of negative reactions to another culture is the tendency to judge something that is different as inferior. It is important to be open toward the culture into which you are going, to try to discard stereotypes, and to read as much as you can about the culture before your departure. If you educate yourself on the many aspects of the country in which you will be living, you will better understand and appreciate your new surroundings much sooner. Before departure, learn about the country's history, natural resources, social customs, religions, art, and political structures. Find out the culture's set of manners, expected behavior, and unspoken rules. Read up on the country's present day problems and current national issues. Learning about current affairs will help you to get a sense of how people evaluate events from different perspectives. Talk to other students who have gone to your host country to learn what problems you may encounter. Your study abroad office can help put you in touch with returned students.

But even with this preparation it is inevitable that you will experience some symptoms of culture shock. You may be unaware that the frustrations and emotions you are experiencing are related to culture shock; in retrospect, this becomes apparent. If you understand the phenomenon and its possible causes, you can decrease its effects. Try to acquaint yourself with its signs. For more information about cultural differences and culture shock, check out Exploring Cultural Differences and Cross Cultural Adjustment.

Phases of Cultural Adjustment 

Recent studies have shown that there are distinct phases of culture shock which virtually everyone who lives abroad goes through. Each phase has a number of characteristic features, one of which is usually predominant. These stages include:

Tips for Successful Cultural Adjustment

Here are some general tips for traveling and interacting with foreign cultures, which, if kept in mind, may help ease cultural adjustment:

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