Cultural Transitions

Living in a new culture can be exhilarating, rewarding, and stimulating. It can also be disorienting, frustrating, and depressing. Such distresses or “culture transitions” are due to the twofold challenge of being in a new environment with unfamiliar customs, language, food, housing, etc., and being away from your familiar home environment with all of the ease and support it provides.

Minimize challenges of an unfamiliar environment

Educate yourself beforehand about the country you will be visiting and be open-minded about the different customs and environments you will be experiencing. Do your own research and be proactive rather than passive.

Minimize challenges of being away from your support network

Plan ahead so that you can be in contact with friends, family, mental health professionals, etc., back home as needed, by researching cell phone/internet connectivity, time zone differences, etc. Of course, try to avoid spending so much time in contact with home that it interferes with the opportunity to engage your new culture.

Strategies That Help

  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Avoid other Americans who are overly negative or who complain excessively. 
  • Take care of your health. 
  • Occasionally, treat yourself to your favorite American fast food or news source. 
  • Try new activities.

Even with preparation, you might experience some form of cultural transition. Studies suggest that culture transitions include distinct phases: initial excitement/euphoria, irritability during acclimation, gradual adaptation, etc. Upon return to the United States, many students face “reverse culture transitions.” If you are interested in learning more about the process of cultural adjustment and readjustment, the University of the Pacific has created a cultural training resource.

If You Experience Symptoms of Depression or Other Mental Health Conditions 

Reach out to your program leader, onsite administrators, onsite resources and/or UCSC Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). 

Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) Contact Information

Business hours (Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.)
In-person at CAPS Central Office at the Student Health Center
By phone at (831) 459-2628  
Staff, faculty, or loved ones concerned about a UCSC student in crisis can call CAPS at (831) 459-2628 or stop by during business hours.

After-hours CAPS Crisis Services are available by phone. Follow the automated menu to connect with a live counselor for psychological crisis assessment, consultation, and intervention any time the CAPS office is closed.

Understanding Cultural Perceptions of You

Just as you may have challenges adjusting to your new culture, your host culture may have challenges adjusting to you. Stereotypes go both ways. American students can be perceived as loud, arrogant, crude, promiscuous, alcohol-obsessed, rich, cheap, politically naïve, shallow, etc. Please avoid reinforcing such stereotypes. Remember you are an ambassador of the United States and the University of California, Santa Cruz – respect others and act responsibly.

Also consider the nature of the political climate and relations between the U.S. and your destination, as well as other countries you plan to visit. In some cases, Americans living/traveling abroad may be singled out as objects of resentment, intimidation, or even violence because of U.S. government policies. In this case, adapt your style of dress and behavior as much as possible to local norms.

Last modified: Jul 12, 2024