Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge. Welcome to Hong Kong, welcome to the campus, welcome to your new home!

Transitioning from one culture into another is a very unique, enriching and sometimes challenging process. Here are ten tips to help you make the most of your intercultural experience.

  • Be aware of your assumptions

Awareness is very key in any transition. Especially when entering a new culture, it’s important to become conscious of assumptions or preconceptions you might have about the local culture, environment or systems. It’s much easier to challenge, change and not give into incorrect or negative assumptions when you are aware of them.

  • Examine your expectations

The first step to making sure that your university experience is nothing short of your expectations is to know what your expectations are. Why did you come to Hong Kong? What kind of university life do you envision? What are your career goals? Be clear with yourself about what you want to experience and accomplish and then become practical, break your expectations down into achievable goals and pursue them. 

  • Understand culture shock

Stereotypical stages of culture shock move from a stage of exploration and excitement then down to a low point when the novelty of the host culture loses its appeal and when homesickness and comparison between one’s home culture and host culture can result in retreat from, and  negativity towards the host culture. Eventually the situation tends to get better as you adjust and integrate to the new environment.

For some, a cultural transition does not spark dramatic highs and lows. It can be more of a background process, but it is still important to give yourself time, space and grace while you are adjusting. Remember that if you haven’t lived in Hong Kong before, everything here is new and that means your brain is working overtime to find what you need, get you where you need to go, keep you safe, and even learn cultural signals all over again. That takes energy and it can be tiring. And that’s okay.

  • Create familiarity

One way to mediate culture shock is to create lines of familiarity to help.

As much as I want to encourage you to push beyond familiarity, it is important to understand how crucial familiarity is to our minds. We work in patterns, and when we are working in familiar patterns we can do things without expending the same amount of effort as it takes to create a new pattern,

Think for example of the difference between the transit between school and home and the transit between home and say, the airport. Most likely, you can make the first without thinking about but the second would take planning ahead and constant attention on the route.

One thing you can do is find a place where you have familiar patterns, maybe in a hobby, an instrument, or a sport. If you don’t have those, try finding a pattern that is relatively easy to make–a walk by science park, keeping a journal, or meditation. These kinds of things allow your brain to relax and can let you focus more on building confidence and relationships in your new environment.

  • Prepare for a good transition back home

Make sure to maintain connections with your family and community back home. It is important to make sure you have friends to come back to when you visit home and to keep up with the environment in your home country in case you return there after graduation. Try planning to call one friend from home every week–even just for 15 minutes.

  • Get out of your circle

It’s easy and completely natural to gravitate to people who have backgrounds similar to yours, especially when you are in a completely different environment. There’s nothing wrong with that. Try to diversify your friend circles though, don’t just stay with people who speak your language or come from your country. Get to know locals and classmates from other backgrounds. You’ll get a more well rounded understanding of CUHK and Hong Kong this way, not to mention expand your cultural horizons. A diverse friend circle is also likely to be a good support system as you assimilate into HK.

  • Keep a journal

I highly recommend getting a notebook and just jotting down your perspectives on life in Hong Kong and your transition as you go. If you do reach a low point you can go back to your notes and be reminded of the parts of Hong Kong that you really like. This kind of record can act as a stabilizer against the highs and lows of culture shock. It is likely to be very precious to you later.

  • Diversify contexts

Year one is the best time to explore, join student societies and try new things. As you form your friend circles, try getting to know people from different backgrounds and in multiple contexts.

  • Know where to get help

The process of personal growth happens during a cultural transition can trigger a lot of unexpected questions, insecurities or anxieties. If or when you encounter a rough patch, it’s good to know where you can get support. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong, shameful or embarrassing with asking for help, advice or counsel. Getting counselling might be stigmatized but the most successful, wealthy, happiest people don’t become that way alone. They have mentors, counselors and advisors. Asking someone who knows more than you a question doesn’t mean you are lacking or weak, it means you are hungry to expand yourself. If you are feeling unusually stressed, confused, unmotivated, depressed etc. there is support for you. The University provides support to students (check the Wellness and Counselling Center (WACC)) and you can also reach out to your college to see what support they have to offer.  The counselors are professional, fluent in English and familiar with the struggles of international students.

  • Learn on purpose

Take the opportunity to learn about communication and culture. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way. Try asking people from other cultures questions about their culture’s communication norms. Ask friends from your own culture about differences they observed between your culture and Hong Kong culture. 


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