Academic Culture Shock

Academic Culture Shock

Culture shock is normally a feeling of anxiety, confusion or stress and fear that is often related with exposure to a new environment where one is not accustomed or used to. Culture shock is often related to change of institutions that are very different or even change of one’s country of residence to a country with very different and diverse culture and environment. Academic shock is therefore the anxiety and confusion associated with advancing from a lower academic level or institution to higher learning institutions, within or out of the student’s country of residence (Godwin 2009).

Academic culture shock is not limited to international students, though it is more evident and dominant in them due to the complete change in social culture, environment, and academic culture. However, academic culture shock affects almost all students as they go through the study phase and graduate from a lower learning institution to a higher and more complicated environment with new cultures and new approaches to both the social and academic life. Academic culture shock is hence a common phenomenon with the first year students who join college and other higher learning institutions. They experience numerous changes and challenges in terms of the social setup and the much flexible systems within such institutions. To many freshmen, it is a moment of self actualization and a moment to explore oneself and learn new ideas from the new experiences gained daily in the new environment.

As mentioned above, academic culture shock is well exhibited among first year students, joining college directly from high school. First year students often join college with a variety of expectations and qualifications that often determine how best they fit into the new environment. First year students are normally used to the restricted environment of their high school where there were close regulations by the authorities and where formal interactions exited between them and their instructors. As they get to college however, the firsts hock is normally the large freedom they gain and the unrestricted environment where they are supposed to take control of their personal and academic decisions.

Academic culture shock becomes more evident among international students who have to cope with totally new environments and different cultures in terms of the national culture of the countries they study in. they have to overcome the barrier of language. Chang Lynn (2011) notes some of the major challenges she faced as a first year student at Missouri- Columbia University. She talks of the many times when she could keep to herself in solitude due to the new American environment where she was not accustomed to most of the cultures an even the daily lifestyle and basic way of living of the American people. It took her some time to break out of her “shell” and learn to interact with the environment, students, and the instructors.

There are three phases that a first year student normally undergoes when he/she joins campus and encounter the various cases of academic culture shocks. The honeymoon phase is normally the initial phase when the freshmen find everything really new, fascinating and exciting. They enjoy the free environment and often think that that is the epic of college life. The second phase is known as the distress phase where the student starts to encounter the daily academic routine that at times may be newand frustrating to them. It is at this stage where students feel homesick and distressed and even question their decision to join campus as all the fun they had in the honeymoon phase have vanished. The last phase is the adjustment phase that comes several months or even in the second semester of the first year. It is at this phase that the student becomes accustomed to the environment and the programs within college and learn to appreciate the environment they live in. for international students, this phase takes a little longer but at they eventually get accustomed not only to the internal college culture but also to the national culture of the country they study in (Mendez, 2009).

When not well managed or prevented, academic culture shock can have adverse implications o n the lives of the students.  Some students succumb to stress associated with the culture shock while some even opt to drop out of college due to the many pressures that they cannot bear (Ward 2001). There are however those who really enjoy college that they get lost into habits that may eventually make them fail to achieve the goals and objectives that brought them to college. Most first year students find the distress phase so hard to manage and some succumb to the challenges of this phase. Some of the important tips of managing or preventing academic culture shock are discussed below;

  1. First, it is important to have prior knowledge of the new college environment. Having a comprehensive research of the college environment enables the student to always anticipate the changes and not just get shocked by the changes they witness and encounter.
  2. Make friends- making friends in the new environment helps a student to share experiences and challenges encountered within the environment. For foreign students, it is good to make friends with students from the study country so as to learn from them about the country. First year students should also interact with senior students who have better experiences to share with them.
  3. Keep an open mind and always maintain a sense of humor. It is important to often have an open mind that is flexible in terms of expectations. It is also necessary to keep a sense of humor that helps the students to remain relaxed within the new environment and absorb the challenges presented.
  4. Be fast to adjust to situations- adapting to the new environment is a very important aspect that helps the student to absorb the shocks that come with relation to the new environment. It reduces the length of the phases, especially the distress phase. It is often important to keep one busy so as to minimize the social and environmental pressures exerted on the new students (Vesterman, 1988).

Academic culture shock is a phenomenon that affects almost every student as they venture out into new institutions, especially college. Students need to carefully consider the recommendations provided above so as to avoid the tragic implications of the academic shocks.