The Five Phases of Cultural Adjustment

The Five Phases of Cultural Adjustment: “Based on our history of case studies with students, we continuously see students exhibit symptoms of each phase. Different levels of English proficiency will affect how these symptoms of cultural adjustment are displayed. It is important that Host Families have a thorough understanding of the different phases of cultural adjustment.” 

The “Honeymoon” Phase: Similar to that of a newlywed couple, this initial phase in the student’s experience is one of great excitement and energy. The student will be both happy and nervous at the same time. The length of the honeymoon stage will vary: for some, it can be short and last just for the airplane journey, for others it can last until a few weeks after arrival. During this time, your student will typically have lots of energy and curiosity about the new country. 

What you can do: Take them out sightseeing on a weekend or an activity they are interested in/always have wanted to do in the U.S. Even just going out to eat can be enjoyable or having a family dinner and movie at home. 

The “Culture Shock” Phase: The second phase of cultural adjustment is the “Culture shock”. During this time, your student will have noticed the differences between their home culture and the new culture they’re living in. They may have begun to struggle with the language and feel unsure about how to interact with people of authority. They will experience a wide variety of feelings during this timeframe including anxiety, homesickness, anger, loneliness, helplessness, fearfulness, uncertainty about themselves, and adapting to the new culture. Students may not feel like eating or joining activities with the host family. They may prefer to call home and speak to family members when something is wrong instead of their host family or program manager.

What you can do:  Constant communication is necessary during this uncomfortable time to see how the student is doing. Need more tips for this topic...

Cultural changes a student may experience: In China, India, Ireland, and England teachers are treated with great respect and are always formally attired. In the U.S., teachers can tend to be very informal in their presentation. This can be confusing for international students at first. Students may struggle with making friends or even dating. They are not able to express themselves in English as they did back in their home country, they can feel somewhat muted. They also may experience Americans who are impatient with their English and/or accent. 

The “Recovery” Phase: During this phase, following the “culture shock”, students will begin to resolve some of the issues they experience in the previous phase. They may start to gain a sense of appreciation for what they have experienced and understand that they are getting used to their new environment. They become a little more confident in how they express themselves, understanding the external forces that influence their emotions and their own reactions a little better. 

The “Adaptation Phase”: During this phase, the students appreciate the differences between their own country and their new country and learn to straddle the two environments.

Following the “recovery phase” They will speak a lot more confidently to their parents and friends back home. They feel more confident, mature, flexible, and tolerant. 

What you can do: include your new student, their home life, and stories in your home as much as possible. Ask them to help cook a meal or choose the ingredients. Bring their culture into your home. Invite their new friends from school to the home now and again and allow the student to relax socially in your home. Host Family Webinars in EduHup? 

The “Reverse Culture Phase”:  Once a student has lived in a foreign country for some time, we know they have to return home at some point. When they return to their home, they may feel like a different person. 

They may react differently to how their family and friends treat them and their family and friends may sense that the student has changed.

It can then be difficult for them to return to the USA after their brief time at home. When a student returns, they may feel disoriented, homesick all over again, frustrated or bored.

They may feel disdain for American things that they didn’t feel before. They may have felt guilty after returning home and realizing that they prefer their “American life” to their home life. This may be shown through the student’s resistance to previously established relationships. 

What you can do: During this reverse culture phase, we recommend that host families recreate some of the honeymoon period activities that they did with the student when they first arrived. We recommend having socially engaging activities after the student comes back from their native country after a school break.



Share this story

About the author

Subscribe to our Blog!

You May Also Like


Although Korean students studying abroad in the United States have decreased in recent years, Koreans still make up the third-highest population of international students in the United States with


It’s the first day of classes at your school.


Start Your American School Year Off By Making A New Native English Speaking Friend!

HTTP_X_GT_LANG: Undefined