An ugly aspect of moving abroad and how you can deal with it

  • June 19, 2022

Nafia Haque and Arafat Reza


“It’s pretty much how we expect or imagine it to be. It’s pretty much what we read in books or see in English movies or shows. Thanks to the internet and social media, we are much more aware of how things are in other parts of the world. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t too taken aback with the culture over here.” 

This is how Faria Tahsin, who moved to England last year to pursue her postgraduate studies, described her overall experience of moving to a new country on her own for the first time after spending more than two decades in Bangladesh surrounded by family and friends.

But, with 70,000-90,000 Bangladeshi students from various parts of the country and growing up in different environments traveling overseas for higher education each year, does everyone find it so easy to cope with all the sudden changes that come with moving to a different country?

Definitely not. This is why, even 62 years after the first time it was coined by anthropologist Kalvero Oberg, the phrase “culture shock” comes up so frequently in our conversations. Loosely defined, culture shock is the feeling of disorientation that a person experiences when moving to a different cultural environment than their own.

When asked about their experience, students who have studied abroad or are currently doing so mostly talk about the positive aspects of moving to a foreign country, such as the opportunity to meet new people, the opportunity to see new places, and the satisfaction of being able to do whatever they want and whenever they want. What they leave out are the gut-punching shocks, unfamiliarity, and loneliness.

In February of this year, I moved to England to pursue a long-held ambition of becoming a Barrister. I had been mentally preparing for the move for over two years, and I had planned for it for the majority of my life. However, once here, I realized that no amount of mental or physical preparation would’ve been sufficient for such a significant change in my life.

The majority of what you will hear about this putting you in control of your life and giving you the freedom to do whatever you want is true. You don’t have to answer to anyone for your actions in a strange, foreign country.

Your parents will not be waiting for you at home, and they will not interrogate you as soon as you walk in the door, asking where you’ve been all day. They won’t even call you as frequently when you are out having fun with your friends or doing something else.

However, this feeling is accompanied by a sense of sadness that develops after a few days, when the sense of missing home sets in and the excitement of freedom fades. Trust me when I say that the honeymoon phase in this case does not last long.

No one will ask you if you ate today, if you’re feeling well. If you get sick, no one’s going to bring you soup in bed nor do you have the opportunity to lie all day in bed because you have chores waiting for you.

With no one to look after them, most students tend to let go of self-care when they move abroad. They forget to stick to a normal eating and sleeping schedule as these aspects are easy to overlook.

When I first moved here, I started eating unhealthy snacks instead of normal healthy meals, and this continued for a month, until it became a habit. For months, I couldn’t get back into my old routine, and because of this, I had almost no energy to do anything all day.

But, with time, I was able to pick up some tricks that helped me deal with the culture shock. I’d like to share my top five tips with the readers, especially those who are moving abroad to study, in the hope that they can benefit from my experience. 

Gather as much information as you can about the place and its people beforehand: 

This will help you adjust to your surroundings and interact with the locals to some extent. Not interacting with others can be a more serious issue for someone who has recently moved to another country than many people may realize. 

With all of the additional challenges you will face, not talking will almost certainly lead to a decline in mental health. In fact, I’ve recently started taking therapy to deal with this.

Knowing about the place will save you from a lot of unnecessary troubles as well. For example, because I didn’t do enough research on the weather in the UK, I suffered from a skin condition for the first three months I lived here.

Learn to cook the foods you enjoy eating:

Learn to cook your favourite foods and get used to eating the same meals for a week because you won’t most likely have time to cook more than once a week. Learning to cook will also help you save a lot of money.

Understand the academic expectations:

As a student, you will most likely have to follow a completely different academic structure. This is going to take some time. The key to solving this puzzle is to not become frustrated and to give yourself that time.

You must also remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Professors and advisors are extremely helpful and will usually help you with whatever you need. 

Never compare your progress to that of others: 

Everyone is unique and learns at their own pace. So, our responses to change will undoubtedly differ from one another. When learning how to deal with culture shock, avoid comparing yourself to others, especially if they have previously visited that country. 

Find stress-relieving techniques that work for you:

To say the least, adjusting to culture shock is a nerve-wracking ordeal. So, it is crucial that you find ways to relieve stress. Again, no two people are alike, so what works for one person may not work for another. Best of luck figuring out what works best for you.


The authors

Arafat Reza is a journalist and an aspiring legal academic.

Nafia Haque is a Research Associate at Stellar Chambers.