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The Adaption Curve

Moving to another school, boarding school, or university is a major transition. If this happens in another country or city, it's an even bigger challenge. Starting over is always, let’s say it nicely, “interesting,” and it is ambiguous. Ambiguous means “having double meaning”. On the one hand, you are excited; on the other hand, you dread the situation.


First, if you’re feeling nervous, please know this is normal. Second, be aware that you will adapt to wherever and whatever in phases. The phases have sort of a general concept but also a personal one. Let me explain…


You are heading into another culture or other cultures. You’ll be, for one, experiencing the new school or uni culture. You’ll also encounter different cultures from fellow international and local students. You might have classmates from Mexico, roommates from Germany, and sports mates from Hong Kong. If you’re an international student, you’ll have to deal with all of the above, plus the new country and its culture.


Bearing this in mind, you’ll need to adapt the best possible way, and good practice is knowing about the “Cross-Cultural adaptation curve”. Sverre Lysgard explored this in 1955 in his “cross-cultural adjustment” theory. It refers to all the social and emotional changes we experience when we move into any new environment. What you’ll experience is “culture shock”. Culture shock refers to the differences in language, behavior, food, customs, and culture (among others) between your home and the host country.


There are different phases: honeymoon, initial culture shock, superficial adjustment, culture shock, recovery, and integration. You move through them at your own pace. This can happen once you get stuck in one phase, recede, or move through them multiple times until you reach the other end. For your information, I have lived in 9 different countries, in 17 places, and have “survived” my 27th house move. So, I know what you are going through, I really do…!


The honeymoon phase: You have just arrived in your new school, college, or host country, and you are nervous but also excited, surprised, and fascinated. It all seems new. You are ready to explore the school or university, the town, and your room and are eager to meet new people. Being excited is the overall feeling.


Initial culture shock: You start feeling frustrated and annoyed with everyday situations. You think being in this new school, college, or country is not great. You see the first challenges, and the weather gets on your nerves. The overall feeling is being annoyed.


Superficial adjustment: You feel like you’ve sort of adjusted, decorated your room, met a few nice people, picked a sport, and got to know all your teachers. Your overall feeling is okay.


Culture Shock: In this phase, you feel exasperated by all these new cultural and school norms and customs in the new country. You might hate everybody and everything, including your roommate, the town, and teachers. You’re missing your family and friends back home. Some problems with your new friends arise. In this phase, individuals often feel depressed or sick. If the honeymoon phase seemed pink, this one appears gray and gloomy. You think that it is not worth being here. You tell your parents that you want to go back to your old school, back home!


Recovery: You’re fine being at the new school, university or country with all its values, rules, ​​and norms. You are getting used to your room, classmates, and teachers. You generally act and function well in the new culture, feeling better, good, and in control. Not only that, but you notice that you’ve passed the dark spot you were in and are “fine”.


Integration: You accept the new school and country culture, with all its pros and cons. Maybe not 100%, but enough to feel good about being here. You know you can manage and don’t want to leave anymore. This might be when you ask your parents if you could stay on. Congratulations, you have made it!


As you’ve seen, this w-shaped curve is not smooth. There are bumps, turns, loops, and sometimes you find yourself back in a previous phase… That’s why some people describe it more like a rollercoaster!


So, when you feel off, sad, frustrated, or alone, please remember you are in one of these phases. Acknowledge the feelings, don’t push them away with a “I’m fine”. If you want, take out the tissues and have a good cry. Call your mom or friend and tell them how you feel! Go to a teacher, advisor, house mom, or school counselor, or contact me. Tell us about your frustrations, get it out!


Also, please know that you are not alone! I can assure you that most of your class or roommates are also in one of these stages. They might feel miserable, lonely, and like “nobody understands me” behind that smile…


Everyone will experience these stages differently. The impact and order are unique to you. There is no time limit to when “you should have mastered this,” and don’t listen to people who tell you that you “should feel better by now”! You WILL come out the other end but at your own pace.

Please know that when you are down, it will go upwards again!


Kindly, Andrea



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