Adjusting while travelling - Section contents

Visiting another country, while exciting, can be an overwhelming experience – especially if this is your first time overseas or first time travelling solo. Don't worry, being nervous and taking a little time to adjust is expected. To ease your mind a little, we've included some information that might help.

Culture shock

When travelling overseas, you can expect to experience differences in all aspects of culture. Although this can be very exciting, it can also be overwhelming and affect you physically and emotionally. This is referred to as culture shock.

Culture shock is a very real experience and it is important to be prepared. It is not only experienced in countries with visibly different customs and languages, but also those which may appear similar to Australia.

Symptoms of culture shock can include:

  • feeling isolated, alone and unable to make friends
  • wanting to return home
  • unable to sleep or sleeping too much
  • feeling irritable and angry, especially with the local culture and people
  • disorientation about how to work with and relate to others
  • aches and pains such as a sore neck and shoulders or stomach ache
  • unable to concentrate on your studies
  • mental fatigue
  • boredom
  • lack of motivation.

These reactions are normal and very common. It is a temporary state experienced by people who are adjusting to life in a new environment, and can occur at any time during the life of a student.

  • Understand that initially, there are likely to be uncertainties and confusion. Imagine how a local resident might react to living in your country.
  • Observe how people in your new environment act in situations that are confusing to you. Try to understand what they believe and why they behave as they do. Avoid judging things as either right or wrong; regard them as being merely different.
  • Remember the ways you have been able to reduce stress in difficult situations in the past and consider applying those methods in your present circumstances.
  • Try to see the humour in confusing situations that you encounter; laughter is often the best 'medicine.'
  • Accept the challenge of learning to study and live in a new cultural setting, and believe that you can learn the skills to make a satisfactory transition.
  • Recognise the advantages of living in two different cultures. Meeting people whose cultural backgrounds are not the same as yours can enrich your life. Consider sharing your time with different people. Think about how you can help local students learn how people from your country believe and act.
  • Acknowledge your progress in adjusting to the new culture. Think of all that you have learned since the day you arrived. Recognise that, like other people who have lived in an unfamiliar country, you can and will make a successful adjustment to the other culture.

If symptoms persist, or if you're worried about a particular physical ailment, please contact a GP.


What to expect upon return

For the first few weeks back in Melbourne, I would accidentally bow almost every time I said “hello” or “thank you” – Jake

Of course, just like there is an adjusting period when you arrive in another country, it will also take some time to adjust to things back home. The common belief is that returning home is simply a matter of resettling, resuming your previous routines and catching up with family and friends. However, many of our returned students have experienced unexpected challenges upon getting home.

The most important thing is to remain patient, both with yourself and with other people. Give yourself the time to get used to life back home, and realise it is okay if it is not 'back to normal' instantly. You'll also need to keep in mind that your experience and the experiences of your family and friends while you were overseas will be different. You may find yourself overwhelmed as loved ones are eager to get in touch and hear about every adventure.

Opening yourself up to new cultures is an enlightening experience and can give you an altered perspective that helps us grow. Keep that in mind and realise there are good and bad aspects to every country and culture.

Seek support

There are programs run by your host institution and the University of Melbourne to help you adjust into your new environment, whether it is at your host destination, or back at home. We cover this topic in our pre-departure sessions and are available for further help whenever you need it.

We'll also be running workshops to help you reflect on your overseas experience and work through how you may be able to use this to your advantage for your future employability. Look out for these on Stop 1 when you return!

Speaking to other returned students is a great way to alleviate any worries and share experiences with someone who understands what you are going through. Remember your peers from across Australia may also have some advice so check in with the Global Society.

The Global Society

Join up as a member of the Global Society to access advice from students who have studied at your overseas study destination before you. You can also meet other students from Australia travelling to your host destination at the same time as you. Membership is free – simply sign up using your University email address on the Global Society website.