How to adapt to a new culture when studying abroad

Students walking across a bridge together

Choosing to study abroad in a foreign country is a fantastic choice that will not only help you have a successful career, but it will also help you meet lifelong friends, find new interests and improve your language skills.

One of the first things you will need to think about is adapting to a new culture. Wherever you choose to study abroad, you will notice cultural differences. You might be a bit unsure at first, but it can help you to develop a global outlook and appreciate other cultures.

Adapting to a new culture does take time, and it is not something you will just adapt to overnight. However, there are steps you can take to help you ease into a new culture.

Do your research

The first thing you will want to do is research your destination. Speak to people you know who have visited the country, read travel guides and seek tips and advice from your university’s website.

It can also be helpful to learn the cultural etiquette and values of the country you are going to study in. Such as what is considered polite and what is considered rude. Learning some of the country’s basic history, politics, national events and what the weather will be like can really help you with cultural adjustment in your new home.

Set yourself aims and goals

Studying abroad is an exciting time. You may have never visited the country or even the continent before. You will want to see as much as you can, all while studying at university. Set yourself goals for your time studying abroad such as what you want to see, eat, do and experience. If you are studying in the UK for example, you will want to explore all the UK has to offer, such as London, Manchester, York or Edinburgh. You will also be nearby to many European countries if you want to explore further.

Join in

Push yourself, try something new and make the most of your time abroad. Make sure you are part of any organised trips or events, join clubs and university societies - you could even become a Student Ambassador.

Be open-minded and ask questions

Living in a new country and adjusting to a new culture does not mean you have to change your own customs and values. However, it is important to respect those of other people. Not only will you be getting used to the culture of your study abroad destination, but you will be around fellow international students from all over the world. They will be just like you, but will also have their own values. Life in the UK is unique, so you should ask questions to learn about local customs and values. If you ever feel like you need help, just ask someone.

Seek support from other international students

If you choose to study at Durham University International Study Centre, you will be surrounded by international students every day. You will be in class together, group projects and may even live together. It can be helpful to discuss all aspects of studying abroad so you can share the experience of adjusting to a new culture with those in similar situations. Talking about the local culture and ways to overcome culture shock can help you better understand the country and the residents of that country, which will be beneficial to your time abroad.

Find something that reminds you of home

If you are spending a lot of time in a country that is not your own, you could miss home. It is ok to sometimes feel overwhelmed and items that remind you of home can be a healthy distraction. Bring family photos, watch your favourite TV show or cook your favourite meal.

Stay patient and speak to the support staff

Adapting to different cultures requires patience but, it is a fantastic learning curve. It is a process that will help you learn more about yourself and be able to navigate new situations with a new sense of confidence. Remember, there are plenty of people you can speak to, whether it is fellow classmates or trained support staff. From your personal tutor to the welfare team, there will always be staff on hand to help you with anything. Whether you need help addressing homesickness or have a question regarding culture and living abroad, they are there to support you.