Leaving home, going to a new city, or even country, and starting at university involve huge change bringing excitement, opportunity and also hazard. To manage any major transition it's important to be prepared for how we might respond and to take some time to reflect on the impact. While this is particularly true for international students, for whom everything can be different including language, learning styles, food, climate, behaviour, values and social roles, at the Advice and Counselling Service we find that home students can also feel overwhelmed by all the newness.
Change can be a challenge to our identity and requires a process of letting go of old ways of seeing the world and old hopes and expectations.
In general there are recognisable phases in how we deal with change that can take some months to work through:
Most of us feel excited by all the changes and exploring a new environment.
Crisis Stage/Culture shock
After a while we may notice we feel nervous and uncertain. We might experience physical problems like headaches and stomach upsets or find it difficult to sleep or concentrate on work. We may feel lonely and homesick, missing the easiness of our familiar relationships. We can become tearful or irritated by all the newness around us and want to withdraw from people.We struggle with the contradictions between the hopes we had and the challenging realities of our new situation.
Differences and similarities become more known and accepted and we gain confidence from our experience and coping with the challenges.
This phase brings renewed enthusiasm and an integration of our new experiences with the old as we develop trust in our capacity to function well in the new situation. This can be a time of energy and creativity with our widened experience bringing fresh opportunities as we start our next life phase.
People work through these stages at different rates, so for some the low point might be 3 weeks after arriving at university, and recovery quite soon afterwards, while others may take much longer and not start to feel good about university for several months!
Being self aware and prepared for these phases provides protection. Too often students' expectation that they should sail through challenging experiences without response or by just working (or drinking) harder can add to the anxieties and the hazards.