Cultural Adaptation 

Cultural adaptation and immersion begin long before your plane lands. Acquiring a basic understanding of your host country’s history and culture will make your transition easier, but it's also about showing respect and gratitude towards the people who live there.

Our Study Abroad Ambassadors have experienced cultural adaptation first hand. We highly encourage you to set up a time to meet with an Ambassador to get advice on how you can prepare for your experience.

  • Why Preparation is Important

    Some students worry that overpreparing will take the adventure and “thrill of the unknown” away from the experience. The truth is, it's not possible to overprepare or over-research. While you’re abroad, you will find yourself confronted by cultural differences in some shape or form no matter how much you prepare. Taking time to research your host country in depth will not only help you navigate challenges abroad more wisely, but prior research also shows your host community that you respect and honor their culture. 
  • What to Research

    Do your research to gain a basic understanding of the history and geography of your host country as well as its social, political, and economic systems. Search online, read books by local authors, and watch movies popular in the country. In today’s world, there are countless ways to research and have fun doing it.  

    Here are some general questions to ask about your host country/city to get started:

    • What is the basic history and how does this history inform the current reality (government, economics, climate, etc.)?  
    • What languages are spoken?  
    • What religions are practiced?  
    • What holidays are observed and what are their traditions? 
    • What social justice movements are taking place? 
    • What is the country’s view on gender and gender roles? 
    • What are the cultural taboos? 
    • How do people typically organize their daily schedules? Are there certain times of day where people typically work, rest, or gather? 
    • What foods are most common? What times of day are meals typically eaten? 
    • How do people greet one another and say goodbye?  
    • What modes of transportation are most common?  
    • Are customers expected to bargain or are prices fixed? Is tipping customary in restaurants, cabs, bars, etc.? 
  • Cultural Adaptation

    Adapting to daily life in a new culture can be very difficult. While no two people experience the exact same things, here are some common symptoms of cultural adaptation: 

    • Irritability and homesickness 
    • Sleep and eating pattern disturbances 
    • Feeling isolated or lonely 
    • Exhaustion 
    • Criticizing your host country’s culture while idealizing your own culture 
  • How to Adapt

    When you're finding it difficult to adjust to a new culture, here are some steps to take: 

    • Know that it’s okay to feel this way. You are not the first person to experience cultural adjustment and you won’t be the last.  
    • Share your feelings with others. Fellow students on your program, the program staff, and your host family are great people to turn to when things get rough. Wesleyan’s Study Abroad Ambassadors and the Office of Study Abroad staff are also always an email or phone call away.  
    • Seek professional support if needed. If you need additional mental support, speak to your program staff about therapists in the area or call your international insurance provider to be connected to a therapist. 
    • Limit your screen time. The more time you spend on social media or texting with loved ones back home, the longer it will take you to adapt to the new culture.
    • Get enough rest, eat nutritiously, and move your body. Too many late nights, not enough solid meals, or too much alcohol can really slow you down, not to mention leave you susceptible to serious illness and other risks. 
    • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about noticing our inner thoughts, feelings, and impulses without judgement. Apps like Headspace and Calm are great to pull out in times of stress. The more you practice mindfulness, the less those difficult feelings will consume you in the moment.