UCL School of Management

Zuzanna Kaja | 1 February 2021

Overcoming Culture Shock

Relocating for university is commonplace for students nowadays as it brings an opportunity not only to expand your search and apply to the best global institutions but the opportunity to live and experience a new city and culture. But it comes with its own challenges, a phenomenon most referred to as ‘culture shock’. MSc Management alumna, Zuzanna Kaja, shares her international student experience and insights on how to manage culture shock and make the most of the existing experience when relocating for university. 

What is culture shock?

If like me, you are an international student, getting to grips with your studies may not be the only thing you are worried about. Perhaps thinking of the friends you left behind makes you feel nostalgic and lonely. And what if life in such a big and vibrant city as London is nothing like the life you’ve experienced in your country or city? What if it gets confusing and overwhelming?

Try not to panic. You are most likely going through a relatively widespread phenomenon known as culture shock - a feeling of disorientation, confusion or anxiety that arises after travelling, or moving, to a completely new place (be it a different continent, country, or city). It is usually caused by factors such as overload of information, language barrier or feeling homesick. In 1954, a Canadian anthropologist called Kalervo Oberg explored the phenomenon of culture shock and proposed a model, which divides it into 4 stages: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation. Let me take you through each stage, and suggest some ideas to make them more bearable so that you can fully enjoy your time at UCL School of Management!


You have just arrived in London and everything seems so exciting! You cannot wait to visit the landmarks that you’ve seen in magazines and English textbooks; you are looking forward to walking along the Thames for hours and finally trying the delicious looking biscuits at the cafe nearby. You are truly in love with London, its fast pace and the diversity of the city excites you. 

UCL’s induction week has just begun. You start meeting your future classmates from all around the world. The endless chats about the new chapter of your life are consuming most of your free time in between induction-related lectures and activities.

If all that seems familiar, you are most likely going through the so-called honeymoon phase, full of excitement, exhilaration and joy. Try and make the most of it! Use your time to visit all the places you’ve been wanting to see and make friends with your classmates - an exciting, yet challenging chapter of studying at UCL is about to begin.


Weeks have now passed, and you’re spending most of your time studying and completing assignments. The initial feelings of joy and excitement have faded; perhaps confusion, anxiety, or even frustration have taken over. What initially piqued your interest as new and unknown can now irritate you; you are dreaming of going back to the ‘old life’ and missing your friends from home.

The negotiation phase is perhaps the most challenging of all four. But, don’t let it impact your uni experience! You are not alone. UCL is a truly global university, full of international students so your peers are most likely feeling the same way. Get some support and talk to your classmates - it can be extremely helpful to feel supported and understood. However, if things get significantly tougher, remember that UCL is there for you. Apart from talking to your Personal Tutor about what you’re experiencing and the possible impact it might have on your studies, visit UCL Student Support and Wellbeing for some more mental health-related information and resources.​    


It’s been a few months. The exhausting negotiation phase is finally over. You have started to get used to the cold weather, long commutes and the everyday challenges of your studies.

You are now officially in the adjustment stage - your attitude is probably more positive, and everything started to feel “normal”. Use that time to rediscover London once again - there are so many things to experience, things to do and places to see (in between of the coursework deadlines, of course! ;) ). 


Finally, after the ups and downs of the culture shock rollercoaster, there comes adaptation - along with feelings of comfort and harmony.

English feels completely natural to you and now and so does everyday life in London. You have made a new circle of friends and Canary Wharf feels like your second home. Your year of intensive study might be slowly coming to an end, but this is merely the beginning of your new life as an experienced and skilful graduate from one of the best business schools in the world.

Hopefully, you have made plenty of priceless memories throughout the exciting year filled with endless challenges and stepping out of your comfort zone.

Learn more about the support available for international students.

Last updated Thursday, 11 February 2021