Published 15th January 2018

For our students who come to a foreign country to learn English, culture shock can be a real problem. Culture shock can affect a person emotionally and even physically. For a person experiencing culture shock, they can feel uninspired and demotivated towards learning. Is there any way we can help our learners deal with culture shock and not succumb to the related depression?

New research suggests there is.

Motivation is linked to resilience

Researchers now believe that motivation can be the key behind dealing with culture shock. A study looked at international students who were studying at an American university. The researchers examined personality traits, length of stay in the US, language proficiency, their level of happiness and their motivation for studying abroad.

They found that students who had high motivation to study abroad were less likely to be affected badly by culture shock. In other words, students who made the decision themselves to move abroad to study rather than be pressured to do so by parents, family members or peers were shown to be more resilient, with the result that they were better able to deal with culture shock.

How can this help our students?

What this means for our learners is that we need to tap into this motivation in order to help our learners integrate successfully into this new culture. If we can identify the personal reasons which are motivating our learners to learn English, we can focus on these to improve our students’ attitude towards the EFL classroom. If our students are learning English to be accepted into an English-speaking university, remind them of this and help them remember the bigger picture.

If, on the other hand, they have found themselves in, say, London learning English because their father thinks it is something they should do, try to focus on the student’s own personal reasons for being there. Once they take autonomy for their decision to learn English, they will be able to focus on the learning process and what steps they need to take to achieve their goal.

Other cures for culture shock

At the same time, if you notice your students are struggling and you think it may be because of culture shock or homesickness, take the time to chat to them and make sure they are ok. Giving your students the space to chat will help them feel much better. You can also remind them to make contact with their friends and family back home to feel more connected. One thing’s for sure, if your students are not happy in their personal lives, their learning journey will be that much more difficult.