Culture Shock? – University of Copenhagen

Culture Shock?

Below you will find information to help you manage situations where living in a new country can be difficult due to cultural differences.

Experiencing a New Culture

One of the attractions of studying abroad is living in a new country and experiencing a new culture, not as a tourist but as someone having an everyday life in a new place. Establishing new routines in a different culture is exciting and challenging at the same time, and it takes you through a learning process. At the end of their stay abroad, many students will return to their home universities or move on to a professional career with greater self-confidence and the ability to manage in an intercultural environment.

Possible Challenges

Most students will experience some challenges when moving to abroad: The food is different, familiar greetings such as 'hello' may give other responses than you are used to, people talk in an unfamiliar language, and have other norms and traditions than you are used to. At the same time, university rules and student life may be different. Sometimes the small differences that are most frustrating, as you think you know how to behave and do things, but you get a strange response.

In some cases, students experience what is called culture shock.

Culture Shock

Culture Shock is the name given to a feeling of disorientation or confusion that may occur when a person leaves a familiar place and moves to an unfamiliar place. The reaction may be both physical and psychological. 

Research has shown that culture shock often develops in different stages:

  • Arrival Stage: Everything is new and exciting 
  • Culture Shock Stage: You start to experience difficulties with everyday things, as they are different from home, such as the language barrier, getting the right food etc.
  • Adapting Stage: You slowly start to understand the new culture and feel more in balance. You feel an urge to belong.
  • Re-entry Shock Stage: This stage takes place when you return to your home country and suddenly find out that you have brought back something with you, namely something that suddenly makes you see your own culture with more critical eyes. This can be difficult to come to terms with. 


To minimise the effect of culture shock, it is important to acknowledge the existence of it, and to know and pay attention to the symptoms, as well as to keep in mind that it is occurring as part of a learning process. Some of the typical symptoms of culture shock are:

  • Sleeplessness, excessive need of sleep
  • Mood changes, depression, powerlessness
  • Anger, animosity against other people
  • Loss of self confidence, insecurity and feeling overlooked
  • Identification and idealisation of home culture
  • Development of stereo-types in the new culture
  • Strong longing for family and friends back home

Dealing with Culture Shock

If you experience some of the above symptoms and have a sudden feeling of loneliness or sadness, here are some ideas that may be helpful in dealing with culture shock:

  • Accept that you cannot know everything about the new country and the language  
  • Keep an open mind - remember that people in Denmark act according to their own set of values. Try to avoid evaluating their behaviour using the standards you would use in your own country
  • Try to do things that you did at home, listen to your favourite music and/or eat familiar food
  • Stay in touch with family and friends at home
  • Talk to a friend about your experiences
  • Stay active – physical activity often helps!
  • Learn from experience – moving to a new culture can be the most fascinating and educational experience of your life. There is no better way to become aware of your own values and attitudes or to broaden your point of view.

Where to seek Help

However, this may not be enough, and you are always welcome to come and talk to the staff at International Education & Grants, if you are an exchange/guest student, or the student councillor in your faculty if you are a full degree student. Talking things through with one of the advisors can help in achieving a perspective on culture shock, and the learning possibilities it implies.

Another possibility is to contact the student counselling, Studenterrådgivningen. Please be aware that the waiting time for a consultation with Studenterrådgivningen is up to 2-3 weeks but you can always get a consultation in a critical situation.

You can also contact your personal doctor and set up an appointment. Please refer to your yeallow health card for contact details.