Cultural & Academic Adjustment

Living in a culture that is different from your own can be both an exciting adventure and a challenging process. Regardless of what country you are from, it is common for all international students to go through a period of cultural adjustment. Understanding this adjustment process and getting support through this transition will help you to have a more fulfilling experience, both academically and personally.

What Is Culture Shock?

Basically, culture shock is cultural adjustment. You are in a different country with different customs, norms, lifestyle, and there will be an adjustment period. The amount of time it will take to adjust varies from person to person; as well as the initiation, severity, and triggers of culture shock.

Culture shock is usually represented in a 'U' curve and will consist of 4 stages: Excitement, Frustration, Understanding, and Acclimation. The image below shows the 'U' curve for the host country, as well as 'reverse culture shock', which you can experience when you return home.

Stages of Culture Shock

Excitement Stage: (also known as the 'honeymoon' stage): You will experience excitement when you first arrive. Everything around you is new and different, people are friendly and helpful, and you are keeping busy with all the tourist-like activities. You are really enjoying yourself!

Frustration/Rejection Stage: This usually occurs when the classes have been in session for a couple weeks. You begin to become frustrated with the new and different aspects of the culture. The people who were very helpful in the beginning may be busy with classes and extra-curricular activities, and may not have as much time to dedicated to helping you, the classes are not like the classes at home, you hate the food, etc. This is the most difficult stage. You might experience the following symptoms:

  • Depression, fatigue, insomnia
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Anxiety, confusion, frustration
  • Fear and insecurity
  • Grief - mourning for old life
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Annoyance and over-sensitivity
  • Impatience

Understanding Stage: You will need to learn about the culture, people, lifestyle, and environment of your foreign country in order to understand the differences you find yourself frustrated by. In order to reach the understanding stage, you will need to immerse yourself in the foreign culture. Against all the feeling in the 'Frustration Stage' you will need to get involved on campus and get to know the culture by meeting people and asking questions. Personality traits that have shown increased success in reaching the 'Understanding Stage' at a faster rate are:

An Open Mind—be open to the new and different way of life. Try foods you've never tried before, go to a (American) football game, participate in class, etc.

A Sense of Humor—humor will help when you get frustrated, annoyed, or insecure. Be able to laugh and move beyond the little annoyances.

Communicativeness—Talk to people, ask questions; but more importantly, if you are feeling sad, lonely, frustrated, do not be afraid to speak to an advisor or a counselor.

Curiosity—You need to have a genuine desire to learn about the culture, people, lifestyle and places in which you find yourself. The ability to adapt comes from learning about your new environment.

Flexibility and Adaptiveness—Life in the U.S. may be a little different or a lot different from your home. You will need to be tolerant and try not to pass judgment in new situations.

Positive and Realistic Expectations—If you enter a new situation with a positive attitude, the outcome is more likely to be positive. We have a saying in the U.S.: 'smiling is contagious'. However, you do need to have realistic expectations, and that is when flexibility comes in.

Acclimation: Once you come to understand the new culture, you will begin to embrace it. You may even feel like it's your new home and have difficulty leaving when the time comes to return home.

 *If you are experiencing extreme culture shock and are not acclimating to Grand View University, please contact the Counseling Center or OISS for help.*

The Counseling Center provides counseling help to all students on an individual or group basis in many areas related to their University experiences. All counseling, whether individual or group, is strictly voluntary and fully confidential. Students may wish to come to the Counseling Center regarding issues of a personal, social, career, or academic nature. The center is staffed by a professional psychologist and closely supervised counseling interns.

Students are seen by appointment only, except in emergency situations. Students may either walk in to schedule an appointment or call.

All individual and group counseling sessions are provided at no cost to the student. However, in more serious circumstances where psychiatric consultation is recommended by the Counseling and Consultation Center or requested by the student, the student will incur the cost of individual sessions with the consulting psychiatrist.

Group counseling is a situation in which six to eight students who have mutual concerns meet together on a regular basis with a Counseling Center staff member. Placement in a group will normally come from a recommendation within the Counseling Center.

The staff also provides consultation to any campus organization or group. This would require that the group request services and meet with the appropriate staff members to discuss their specific needs.

Academic Adjustment

Key Observations About the American Education System

Classroom Atmosphere

  • Of the various academic traditions, one of the most significant is the degree of informality in American classrooms. Free discussions and critical questions are encouraged by most faculty members, and you will notice that the professor wants to hear your opinions even if they do not align with the opinions of the professor.


  • Class attendance is critical. If you miss classes, the professor will assume you are uninterested.
  • Be on time to class. Being late to class is a sign of disrespect and some professors will not allow you to enter after the class has begun.
  • Class participation is often considered in determining the grade. You should therefore speak up in class, ask questions, and take part in discussions.

Asking for Help

  • Professors will generally wait for students to come to them for help rather than offering assistance. However, they usually are very willing to help if you approach them, especially at Grand View.  Most professors have designated office hours where you can make an appointment to speak with them about any questions or concerns you have about the course. If you are struggling in your class, GO TO OFFICE HOURS! Your professors are your best form of support.


  • Tests are given frequently in most undergraduate courses and you must therefore study consistently from the very beginning of the semester. If you get behind at the beginning of the semester, you may not be able to catch up.


  • The professor will usually tell you in the first class how your final grade will be determined. Professors differ in the weight given to various factors, such as class participation, attendance, tests and final examinations, in determining the final grade. Be sure that you understand how the grade will be assigned. If you do not understand, ask!


  • It is generally estimated that students at Grand View University need to spend two to three hours studying for each hour spent in class. Students who are still becoming accustomed to reading in English will find more study time necessary.

Sources of Academic Assistance in the University

Academic Learning and Teaching—ALT offers tutoring in many different areas, as well as workshops for academic success in higher education. ALT is located in Rasmussen, room 205.

Writing Center—The Writing Center can help with any type of writing assignment. You will need to make an appointment and is located in Rasmussen, room 205.