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International students experiencing mid-term culture shock

The "end of the honeymoon" usually comes about in mid-March

Langara College's International Education office. Some International students struggle to deal with culture shock in mid-March. Photo by Perrin Grauer
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Reported by William Crosby

For many international students, mid-March is when the shine starts to dim on their new adventure abroad, according to Tim Rahilly, vice-provost and associate vice-president, students and international at SFU.

Students experiencing culture shock

Rahilly said heavy academic demands can be amplified by culture shock, the challenge of communicating in a second language and having to adjust to a whole new set of social norms.

“I think what happens is that there’s a huge excitement around coming to Canada, and I think that excitement buoys them or carries them along for a certain period of time,” Rahilly said.

“Then they get to a new place, and they have all the challenges that are associated with that… It means that we need to help prepare them for that and offer them support.”

At Langara, international students make up almost a third of the student population.

The end of the honeymoon

Erin Smith, Langara’s international student coordinator, recently ran a workshop called “Culture Shock” to help international students deal with their mid-term difficulties, which she called “the end of the honeymoon.”

“I lived abroad for about 12 years in eight different countries and so I’ve experienced culture shock many times,” said Smith, who has studied all over the world, and wanted to share the lessons she’d learned.

Langara student Richu John said it was the small things that made his transition from India most difficult.

“Even just buying a coffee at Tim Hortons was difficult for me the first time,” John said.

Rahilly said it’s normal for students studying in foreign countries to feel overwhelmed from time to time, but the most important skill for anyone in an unfamiliar situation to learn was how to reach out for assistance.

“They could be doing super well academically, but there are some significant cultural differences, and one of the differences is when do you ask for help,” Rahilly said.

“A lot of people have really high expectations of themselves. I think in addition to asking for help, we have to help people set realistic expectations.”

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