Contact meQuestions about your life after PhD?

Dealing with culture shock – International student series part 3


Our contributor Camila Ortega shares her experience as an international PhD student studying in the US.  Originally from Chile, Camila came to the US in 2010 to work towards her PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. A natural leader, Camila has been actively involved with her community and have plays a major role in several events on campus.

International student series:

I moved from Chile in 2010 and it took me about a year to overcome cultural shock. At that time I was 22 and had no idea about the world outside my bubble. Even though I was living in beautiful Hawaii, where the sun comes up every day and turquoise colored beaches and green mountains are just a few of the items in the landscape, I felt very depressed. I would define cultural shock as a sensation of lack of belonging. Some of the things that hurt me the most was missing my family and friends. An overall sense of loneliness; wanting to meet new people but because we don’t “shared the same culture” I couldn’t trust them. The fact that I was very busy with school and that money was tight didn’t help the situation.

Little by little I was able to put my mind in the right state. I realized that my culture was not better than the culture of the place where I was, it was just different. This thought really help me open my mind. I started looking for activities that I would never have started doing otherwise. I started reading more books and hiking. I became more aware of my surroundings and was eager to learn from different cultures.

I started trying different types of food and meeting new people, some of them eventually became my friends. When I first left my hometown, I didn’t like Thai, Indian or Korean food. I couldn’t bare eating spicy food and the thought of eating exotic foods like chicken feet would make me want to throw up. As it is today, I love Indian, Thai or Korean food. I tried chicken feet, frog, pork feet, and many other animals feet and I’m getting to spicy level 5.


I still miss my family and friends. The thought of missing holidays, gathers, birthdays, funerals, etc. together always makes me nostalgic and a little a sad. But I learned to live with it and in the long run it is better not to think about it. Every once in a while I go back home and try to embrace every moment that I spend with them. I try to eat my favorite foods and go to the places that I like. And when I’m back to my “newer” home I do the same. It may sound cliché but every past experience forge me in the person that I’m now. I’m much driven than before, I feel much stronger and even though there are many things for me to learn I feel that I’m the main actress in my life and my mind is in the right state to make it through every new challenge.

Are you having a hard time adjusting to a new start? Contact for more information on personal success coaching to get you on the right track.


Leave a Reply