How to navigate the culture shock of going to uni

Courtney Bahnemann
Courtney Bahnemann

As the time for mid-year intakes approaches, whether you recently graduated high school, are returning from a gap getaway, have moved to a new city or are transferring to an international university, the cultural shock of going to uni is a very real phenomenon that can have a big impact. To help ease the process, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips on how to not only combat culture shock but thrive through it.

Culture shock isn’t just prone to international travellers, it can effect anyone going from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one.

Perhaps the biggest transition young people experience is going from regular scheduled learning environments, with rules and expectations, to a much more free-formed environment where they are responsible for their own learning experience. Not to mention the further thrust into ‘adulthood’ students who choose to study abroad or interstate have.

When starting uni, it’s normal to experience feelings of stress, homesickness or frustration before you truly feel settled. In fact, expect it!

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But, culture shock doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom! It is one of the best learning experiences you can go through. In fact, they say that the first year of university is one of the most condensed learning phases young people will ever experience.

So, here’s a few tips on how to navigate the inevitable culture shock of going to uni.

What to expect during culture shock

Before we get into a few tips on how to combat it, it’s important to know exactly what culture shock is and its different stages.

Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation when one is subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. Briefly stated previously, culture shock is often associated with international travel, however, that’s not always the case. Visiting a friend’s house, starting a new job or even joining a sports team all include variations of culture that you will have to adapt to. 

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The different stages of culture shock when starting uni may include:

The honeymoon stage

The honeymoon stage is like any you may experience with relationships. In the first couple of weeks of moving into a new environment, everything will seem exciting, almost like you’re on a type of high. 


After a few weeks, the novelty of a new environment starts to wear off. Perhaps you’ll start missing things like your parents’ home-cooking, a local park, or some of your old friends and familiar routines. 

You may feel overwhelmed or frustrated trying to find where new classrooms are, understanding your new subjects, or even how to get along with different personalities within your cohort.

Things that were once exciting, quirky or amusing may now seem annoying, and you may even start doubting whether this new experience was the right choice for you

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This is generally the part that most people relate with culture shock.


Once you start accepting your new life, the sting of culture shock slowly subsides. 

Understanding they layout of your new campus, what is expected in your subjects, and whether your new roommate is a morning person or not are all steps into settling into the groove of your new life.

If you’ve decided to move to a different country, learning about a new culture is the first step in appreciating that culture. So, don’t try to avoid different cuisines or activities, this will only prolong your culture shock. The more you try new things and embrace a different way of life, the more normal they’ll become to you.


There may still be some things you don’t particularly like about your new life like you just can’t get used to the weather, you have classes on different sides of the campus, or your budget is a little too strict – but, you’re finally feeling more at home. This stage is when you’ve fully adapted to your new environment and the flow of everyday life is a much easier ride.


How to navigate culture shock


Now that you know what to expect, here are a few tips on how to navigate culture shock when going to uni, whether it’s your first time, or your first time back in a while:

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  1. Visit your campus before the semester begins. Even if you don’t have your timetable completed yet, take time out to familiarise yourself with the different buildings associated with your degree and where potential short cuts are.
  2. Make a budget. Unless you can get subsidies from the government for studying, you’ll generally have to take a pay-cut due to working less hours to attend class. Making a budget early in the semester and sticking to it will save you money and stress in the long run.
  3. Go to a local coffee spot or campus food joint and people watch – you’ll learn a lot about the general demographic just from observing.
  4. Attend orientation week – it’s the easiest way to make new connections and it’s a great time to join any clubs you’re interested in.
  5. Get into routine early. Start setting your alarms a few weeks before the semester begins to save from getting those first-day bags under your eyes.
  6. Organise your public transport, library and ID cards in advance.
  7. Learn to prioritise study time. Uni students are notorious for all-nighters and last minute assignment work because they have less follow-ups from professors as they do in school. Students who have better time management skills generally perform better academically and find university far more enjoyable than those who don’t.
  8. Take advantage of the free counselling or mentoring services universities offer. Talking about any issues or getting that bit of extra help on difficult concepts in class will help ease the sting of culture shock.
  9. Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep! Uni diets don’t always have to consist of two minute noodles and cereal. Learning a family recipe will also help you feel comforted when you’re missing home.
  10. Keep in regular contact with your family and friends – a familiar voice is only ever a phone call away, not to mention texting, snap, or Instagram. There’s truly no excuse for not staying in touch.

Culture shock will inevitably happen, no matter who you are. It’s important to understand what it is, the various stages that will occur, and the best ways to help navigate what can be a difficult time for many people. However, the most important thing to remember is that any discomfort won’t last forever and that soon your new campus will feel just like home. 

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