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7 Tips to Manage Culture Shock in the Classroom

For anybody, culture shock is a natural experience when moving to a new country. But how can you, as an educator, help a student who has recently moved from another country and landed right into your classroom?

What is culture shock?

Culture shock is exactly as it sounds – a shock at being exposed to an unfamiliar culture. In our own countries we know what to expect and how to do things: we know the behavioural expectations, how to fit in, the teaching style and of course, the language. While not every international move means a different language, culture shock can still happen regardless of this. It can just be heightened by a language difference too. 

Stepping into an international school, children don’t know what games, TV programmes or music is “popular” and have to try and relate to their new peers, who may be speaking different language too, which can be overwhelming and feel chaotic. 

Research has found that generally, an individual experiences four stages of culture shock before settling into their new home:

  • The tourist phase– when everything initially seems fun, interesting and like an adventure.
  • The crisis phase’- when the individual starts to notice all the differences between the country they have come from and arrived in. Oftentimes the move can start to feel like a mistake. 
  • Reassessment and recovery’- when the individual begins to accept the differences and similarities between their own culture and the new culture.
  • Adjustment and acceptance’- when the individual feels fairly settled, begins to form relationships and starts to co-exist with the culture and accept the way things are done.
The culture shock journey.

Here are seven ways to help students experiencing culture shock:

  1. Encourage students to continue learning their native language. Make a dual language book library in the classroom and encourage students to borrow materials to share at home or to ‘teach’ each other during reading time. A new student will make sense of the new language through drawing comparisons and differences between the two languages and will start to learn new words without knowing they are!
  2. Establish a classroom routine using repetition and images. By doing this new students will know what to expect and will therefore settle in quickly. Using the same words will make it more likely for the words to go into their long-term memory and visual aids will help very new learners of an additional language.
  3. Help students connect to activities that might interest them outside of school. Art classes, sports teams and other hobbies can help students feel part of a new community network, or keep them involved in a hobby they had back home.
  4. Encourage students to find or form support groups with other students who may be at the same point in the U-curve of culture shock.
  5. Allow time for reflection. Teach students vocabulary for feelings. Using pictures of children showing different emotions can be helpful in teaching expression. We have the Social-Emotional Learning section here at Quizalize which has some useful resources on dealing with difficult emotions.
  6. Remind students from time to time how to get help at your school if their feelings of homesickness become overwhelming.
  7. Show interest in their culture. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their culture and where they have come from as this can often be a breakthrough, resulting in then feeling more welcome and involved in your classroom as well as helping to build a trusting and mutually respectful relationship between yourself and the student.

We hope these seven tips help you manage culture shock in your classroom and provide some tangible ideas that you can implement quickly and effectively.

If you would like to kick things off by accessing our Social-Emotional Learning curriculum, you can do so here:

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