Spring Festival and Adjusting to a New Culture

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 28 is the Chinese New Year Day. Happy holiday to those who celebrate this holiday!

Chinese New Year, also known as the “Spring Festival”, is the first 15 days of traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Celebration of the Spring Festival traditionally runs from Chinese New Year Eve to the Lantern Festival which is the 15th day of the first month on lunar calendar.  Traditional celebration of the Spring Festival often involves thoroughly cleaning the house to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make room for good incoming luck, paying respect and honoring ancestors, getting together with extended family for the annual reunion dinner, and giving money in red paper envelopes as a sign of passing on good fortune.

For many international students from countries where the Spring Festival is an important festival, the actual celebration may be very different than the tradition. These students are forced to adjust because their families are thousand miles away, and they are not able to return to their home in the middle of a very busy academic term.  Instead of reuniting with their family for the dinner, they often get together with friends to celebrate. Instead of giving or receiving red paper envelopes in person, they may give or receive virtual “red paper envelopes” online via social media such as Weibo or WeChat.

Studying abroad and adjusting to a different culture can be both rewarding and stressful. Figuring out how to celebrate a traditional holiday while studying abroad is not the only adjustment that international students have to make. Many of these students, who were used to lecture-based teaching style in their home countries, have to adjust to more interactive, discussion-based classroom in the U.S. Oftentimes international students have to navigate a different set of social norms such as asserting oneself with authority figures or learning how to make friends from other cultures.

Here are some tips that may assist international students in adjusting to living and studying in the U.S.

  • Be patient and give yourself permission to make mistakes. The process of adjusting to a new culture takes time. No one can understand everything overnight, and it is inevitable and understandable to make mistakes while exploring a new culture. Be patient with the process and don’t beat yourself up for not knowing something or making a mistake.
  • Use your observation skills. While you are trying to figure out the social norms, it is often helpful to observe how others respond to certain situations. Pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal behaviors.
  • Find a cultural ally and ask questions. An American friend, faculty, or staff whom you can trust can be a great consultant on cultural norms and expectations.
  • Seek support from your family, friends and other international students. It is important for all of us to have people with whom we can talk about ups and downs. Stay connected to your family and/or friends in your home country. They may not fully understand your experience in a new culture, but they do care about you. Sometimes knowing someone is there for you can make a big difference. It is also helpful to make friends with other international students and support one another in navigating the process of adjusting to a new culture.
  • Utilize resources on campus. There are many resources on campus that provide support to international students in their process of adjusting to a new environment. International Student and Scholar Services is often a good starting point. Also, the University Counseling and Testing Center offers a support group for international women on a weekly basis. There also are a variety of international student groups.
  • Keep in mind that in spite of the frustration or loneliness at times, your time at UO can also offer you a rich, cross-cultural life experience that goes well beyond the classroom.

Jingqing Liu
Staff Psychologist