What is culture shock? 

Culture shock is the way you react and feel when the cultural cues you know so well from home are lacking. In our daily lives each of us knows how to perform a myriad of activities on any particular day in an amazingly efficient manner. We can shower, get dressed, make it to campus, grab a coffee, go to the library, research and photocopy, print out a paper, go to class, pick up a few groceries and get back home without thinking about any of these tasks. We know when to j-walk without comtemplating. We know how to interpret motives when someone runs into us–was it a dangerous encounter, impolite gesture or simply an accident? When someone yells at us, we know how to analyze the situation and react whether it be out of anger, joy or frustration–all in a matter of seconds.

These activities all require cultural knowledge, and when you go to a new country you must learn to recognize normal behavior, interpret cultural signals, navigate the new rules, and react in an adult manner appropriate to that culture. Inexperience in the culture takes its toll on your psyche, and your reaction will be determined by your knowledge of that culture, your ability to observe people and your willingness to accept this new/different (but not better or worse) way of doing things.

The more subtle the differences, the harder your task. For many students who have spent years learning a foreign language and studying cultural information about a country, it is easy to accept that the “rules are different”. Those, on the other hand, who go to a country where English is the native language, may be caught off guard to learn that cultural differences abound, and culture shock may be more severe as a result.

Experts believe that cultural adjustment often occurs in three stages:

  • Honeymoon stage — excitement about being in the new country.
  • Uncomfortable stage — frustration, confusion and negative feelings about the new culture, homesickness, illness. This stage is often called ‘Culture shock’.
  • Adjustment stage — understanding many aspects of the new culture, making friends and discovering helpful people at the university; ability to keep core values of the home country but operate within the values of the new community.

Remembering the following facts will help: Culture shock doesn’t come from a specific event. It is caused by encountering different ways of doing things, being cut off from cultural cues, having your own cultural values brought into question, feeling that rules are not adequately explained, and being expected to function with maximum skill without adequate knowledge of the rules.

Therefore, strategies for coping include the following:

  • Know as much as possible about your host country (preferably before you go, but once there depend on the host nationals to help).
  • Find logical reasons for cultural differences. Many have evolved over time for very specific purposes that are no longer apparent.
  • Try to spend more time with your mentor, discuss your feelings and talk about your experiences. Give specific incidents, tell how you would do something at home and ask what you must have missed in a particular encounter.
  • Have faith in yourself that you will survive and cope and have a positive experience. This faith in yourself that you have the drive and energy to learn about a new culture will inevitably pay great dividends and make for the remarkable experience it should be.

Coping with the Adjustment Process

Understand that it is normal for anyone in a new country to experience some challenges adjusting to the new culture.

  • Learn about and experience the new culture.
  • Meet people and make new friends both from your home country and across the globe.
  • Meet Turkish students and learn more about Turkish culture by talking to them in the classroom or on the campus.
  • Get involved by joining clubs and organizations and by participating in activities on the campus.
  • Expect and respect differences and similarities.
  • Maintain contact with family and friends back home. Phone or write home, watch a video from your home country or eat in a restaurant that serves food from your home country.
  • Take care of yourself physically: get plenty of rest and exercise and eat well.
  • Get involved in an activity or with a group. Visit http://dos.ku.edu.tr/clubs to learn more about the variety of student clubs and groups available to students.
  • Work towards feeling comfortable in the new culture.
  • Work on learning daily Turkish words and phrases.
  • Participate in Survival Turkish Course.
  • Enjoy nature. Walk around the campus, sit by the seaside in Sariyer and enjoy the view of the third bridge.

What personal characteristics may help?

  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Low goal task orientation
  • Open-mindedness
  • Being non-judgmental
  • Empathy
  • Being communicative
  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Curiosity
  • Motivation
  • Self-reliance

Many students who are academically focussed find that rolling with the punches, being flexible and not being too hard on themselves will take effort on their part.

Tips for Living in a Diverse Community

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • If you’re curious about something, ask. Sincere questions are appreciated more than uninformed assumptions.
  • Try something different.
  • Take advantage of the many opportunities to explore new things in Istanbul.
  • Respect diversity.
  • People from a variety of cultures, races, ethnic, economic and geographic backgrounds, abilities, sexual orientations, and religious and political beliefs enrich Istanbul’s community.
  • Be flexible, open, and honest.
  • Expect to have some uncomfortable moments. Roll with them. Remember that learning can be experiential—it’s not always intellectual.

Advice from Other International Students

  • Don’t stay alone in your room every night.
  • Go out with a friend to see the city or shop.
  • Get involved with nationality clubs or other campus organizations.
  • Travel around Türkiye.
  • Do not worry about making mistakes.
  • Do not be afraid to try new words or to practice your Turkish.

Transition (Do’s and Don’ts)

  • Greetings & how to address people: professors, friends and strangers
  • Sense of personal space, «invading one’s space»: Some people tend to be very sensitive about space, be aware of the other people’s reaction.
  • Body odor: Turkish people tend to be very sensitive to smells, frequent laundering of clothing, daily bathing, use of soap/lotion/deodorant (not too much cologne/perfume). Be aware that  odors from food/smoke may be offensive to others.
  • Some will be very direct in their communication-opinionated, passionate; others will be more indirect-the sugar-coating culture
  • Appropriate/inappropriate topics may depend on the situation
  • Safe topics: the weather, classes, jobs, sports, movies, fashion, travel
  • Topics for friends and people you know well:  Money, religion, politics
  • Be aware that not all humor is cross-cultural.
  • Hand gestures and body language may mean different things.

Staying Safe

  • When entering larger venues, always decide on a meeting place with those you are with just in case you get separated.
  • Never leave your bags or other valuable items unattended.
  • Always keep your wallet and phone in a front pocket that you can zip or button up if possible. Don’t make your mobile phone a moving target. The longer the phone call, the more likely you are to be spotted by a thief.
  • Always watch your beverage. Never leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from strangers.
  • Know your limits. Consuming too much alcohol can land you in trouble and potentially leave you very vulnerable.
  • Make sure you tell your mentor where you are and who you are with, especially if you are with someone you don’t know well.
  • Always try to make prior arrangements as to how you will get home.

Tips for Staying Safe

  • Exercise common sense about your personal safety and belongings.
  • Do not carry large amounts of cash and, unless traveling, leave your passport in a safe place in your room.
  • If you choose to drink, do so responsibly. Criminals are known to target vulnerable individuals whose judgment is impaired by intoxication.
  • Pay attention to your personal belongings, particularly in busy locales. Thieves use snatch-and-grab techniques to steal smartphones, laptops, purses, and other valuables. In restaurants, bars, theaters, and other public places, keep bags within reach; do not place possessions on the floor or hang them on a chair.

While Travelling in Türkiye

  • Like anywhere in the world, you will need to keep your wits about you and be cautious and apply the same safety rules that you would in your native country.
  • Research the destination that you planning to travel to- whether you are travelling along the popular coastal resorts of Türkiye, rural areas or the large cities.
  • Avoid isolated places.
  • Use licensed taxis only.
  • Do not be a victim of opportunity theft by leaving your handbag wide open.
  • Book hotels with good reputations, look at the reviews first. Always pick up a hotel business card and carry with you.
  • Photocopy your passport and leave it with someone you trust. If you do lose your passport, they can fax the photocopy through to you. This will help your local consulate to issue new travel documents quicker.

A Guide to Social Etiquette in Türkiye 

There’s a lot to learn about social etiquette in Türkiye but knowing the basics will be enough in most cases.


  • Dress is one of the most common stumbling blocks for international students and although there are some misconceptions about Turkish attitudes to women’s dress (like the must wear burqas) attitudes to dress are generally more conservative particularly in the east of Türkiye.
  • So mini-skirts and skimpy shorts are clothes you may like to avoid but on the whole Turkish people are very respectful and polite.

Social Situations

  • Not everyone will follow social etiquette as strictly as others but just in case it’s best to know how to properly greet people and learn the basics. One of the first things you’ll likely notice is that Turkish people in general have a smaller area of personal place so they might stand closer to you then you’ll be used to.
  • Handshakes are the proper traditional greeting in Türkiye, and this includes shaking hands with men, women and children. Putting your hands in your pockets and standing with them on your hips is also seen as rude particularly when talking to people.
  • Men and women kissing each other on the cheek when meeting and parting is also common.
  • If you are in an in-depth conversation with a Turkish person and they can touch your arms or hands, it is just their way of emphasizing their thoughts and opinions.

Things You Should Beware Of

  • Apart from learning how you should act you should also be aware of how locals may react to you based on your appearance, dress or nationality.
  • Asian students may be asked some questions about where they’re from and what it’s like there. These questions are bound by curiosity so don’t be offended.
  • Homosexual acts between adults over 18 are legal and places like Istanbul and the towns of Antalya and İzmir are considered more gay friendly.
  • Smoking is a hot issue in Türkiye and while smoking was prohibited in all public places in 2009 don’t be surprised if you see many people flouting the ban.

When visiting a Turkish friend’s house…

Remember to take off your shoes when you enter a Turkish home. It is consider disrespectful to enter a Turkish home wearing your shoes. You will be given some house slippers to put on instead.

Türkiye closes for lunch..

Mealtimes are very important for Turkish people and lunch is no exception. Banks and businesses will close for up to 1 hour for lunchtime, and it is not common practice to quickly eat a sandwich at your desk; in Türkiye they will enjoy a relaxed sit down meal with colleagues.

Turkish people love to hear non-Turkish people speak Turkish

Even if you only speak a few words it will bring much appreciation. So you are more than welcome to practice your Turkish!


If you need help with the adjustment process, or if you have questions or concerns, please contact the Counseling Services (KURES). All information shared with counselors is confidential.