Cultural Issues

Culture Shock: Going Away

NOTE: UAlbany recommends that students and their families read this section carefully.

The University at Albany Study Abroad and Exchanges staff would like you to know that “culture shock” is a natural part of the study abroad experience, and that it should not derail your overseas program.

Culture shock can be defined as personal disorientation in the face of an unfamiliar way of life due to being in a new country or environment.  Forms of culture shock include information overload, language barrier, technology gap, and homesickness.  Your experience of culture shock will not be the same as that of your fellow students, but you can all support one another through this temporary state of being.

On this campus and all others, first-semester students, upon leaving home for the first time, overcome a similar period of unease and reflection.  Many miss the comforts of home, focus on obstacles rather than opportunities, and become overwhelmed by the new environment, activities, and people. The overwhelming majority of college students emerge unscathed from these growing pains, and so will you.  In fact, if you come into your overseas program with an open mind, as well as patience for yourself and others, then you will count your decision to study abroad amongst the wisest that you ever made.

You expect to find differences while you are away, and so you will generally be receptive to them.  That is especially true in the beginning, when everything and everyone is new.  After an initial euphoria, in which you “fall in love” with all that the host nation has to offer, it is common to feel "down" a few weeks into your program. This “emotional rollercoaster” happens to everyone, even seasoned travelers.  Any feelings of dissatisfaction, homesickness, and social isolation should be of short duration.  The first steps to overcoming culture shock feelings are to acknowledge that they exist and will pass. In the meantime, be kind to yourself, even spoil yourself with long walks, your favorite music, meeting up with new friends in a café, planning a weekend away with other exchange students, creating a Blog of your adventures, or engaging in whichever (healthy and legal) past-times usually bring you joy or stress relief. 

Be gentle with your parents during this time: they are already worried about you, and by the time they finish hearing about your unhappy state, you will probably have found your equilibrium again.  

If you find that negative emotions (anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger) or behaviors (changes in sleep, appetite, substance use) persist and are starting to disrupt your study abroad experience, call a friend, family member, or the overseas staff ASAP, so that they can be of help, or find you appropriate care.  If you currently take mood-altering medication, consult with your physician before changing your dosage.   

After you reconcile yourself to the way things are and even begin to enjoy them, you have adjusted and will make the best of the situation.  When you navigate such changes successfully, you will have developed intercultural competence, with first-hand knowledge of overcoming cultural barriers

Sexual Harassment

No one studying abroad, male or female, should ever have to suffer from unwelcome sexual pressure.

In a study abroad context, sexual harassment can be defined as any unwanted sexual advances from anyone with power over any aspect of your stay overseas, whether it be your accommodations (homestay or dorm residence), or your educational or work environment.

Whether or not you are being sexually harassed may at first be unclear, to you or others.  For example, some Americans might react with discomfort to what they perceive as “close talking” and “cheek kissing,” which are customary practices in various cultures.  You should be aware of your own feelings within those contexts.  You should not interpret every offer of shared activity in the negative, but rather accept most invitations as an expression of hospitality and an effort to acquaint you with a new culture. 

If you find that you are the target of what are clearly repeated sexual advances, there is support for you.  By no means does the University at Albany wish to suggest that sexual harassment is the norm in homestay arrangements.  It is not. There have been a few isolated incidents of students in homestay situations being subjected to sexual harassment, when a host family member requested company or sexual favors. Should you become the object of such advances, firmly say NO.  Should it persist, inform the appropriate officials, request a change of families, and contact the UAlbany Office of International Education ASAP, so that we can intervene as necessary on your behalf.  Even if you think that you have handled the problem adequately on your own, please tell us about it so that no other student is ever placed in the same situation.

If you wish to discuss this or any other matter of concern, please do so.  This office receives email at studyabroad@albany.edu, faxes at 518-591-8171, and phone calls at 518-591-8170, around the clock.  We can be reached by phone during normal office hours as well as after hours in the case of emergency.

Student Conduct and International Laws

When you study abroad, you are a guest in a foreign country, as well as a guest of a foreign academic institution.  For your own safety, ensure that your behavior and dress conform to the laws and norms of your new host country, as well as the policies and regulations of the institution where you are studying.

You are subject to all of the academic standards and regulations of the university where you are taking classes.  Attendance and assignment requirements and grading criteria are determined entirely by the host university.  Regular class attendance is important.  All travel should be restricted to authorized vacations and periods before and after the academic sessions.  The host university is responsible for any disciplinary action to be taken in connection with violations of its rules and regulations.

As soon as you enter a nation, you become subject to all of its laws, even if you do not know what they are.  You should avoid all political activities and demonstrations.  In many nations, penalties for convictions on drug use or trafficking can be very severe. 

If you engage in an illegal activity while abroad, the U.S. Government cannot offer you any protection. Consular officials cannot intercede with local authorities on your behalf.  However, should you encounter any legal difficulties while abroad, contact the nearest consulate for assistance immediately.  The U.S. consular officer can provide you with a list of local attorneys and contact your family or friends.