CAPS equipped to help students face culture shock

Ceylin Arias/Staff Writer

Despite popular belief, culture shock does not always involve traveling from one country to another, according to Kathryn Kominars, a licensed psychologist and associate director for Counseling & Psychological Services.

A person can go through cultural shock from the smallest things such as a change in transportation, she said.

Due to misconceptions of what cultural shock is and what it consists of, Kominars considers the definition of cultural shock crucial to understanding how it may affect any one personally because no two experiences are the same.

Cultural shock, as defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary, is considered “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety or nervousness that occurs when people are exposed to an alien culture without adequate preparation.”

No one who seeks counseling at CAPS is characterized as coming in for “cultural shock,” but is instead treated based on specific issues that may derive from family challenges, lack of social support, separation from loved ones or major differences in environment, according to Kominars.

“Coming to Miami for people who come from a similar kind of culture is probably less stressful and thus, less of a difficult situation than people who come from a totally different culture,” Kominars said.

Bidje Racine, a junior and biology major, remembers coming from Haiti at the age of twelve.

Although Racine came from Haiti knowing very limited English, it wasn’t all that difficult for him to acclimate to his new environment because his middle school was predominantly black and many students had at least one Haitian parent.

“It was sort of like I never left Haiti. I felt comfortable most of the time, but that didn’t mean I did not miss my old friends or the neighborhood I grew up in,” said Racine. “For the most part though, I was able to make friends within the first month I got to Miami and it was then that school really began to feel like home away from home.”

For those coming from a culture different from Miami’s, stressors such as the difference in climate and not being able to easily acclimate can create challenges, according to Kominars.

“Any of the kinds of things that people would take for granted as being universal everywhere and then they come from a different place to find out ‘Oh, that’s not universal, it’s what I’m used to.’ Those are all things that add to the sense of ‘Oh, I’m in a foreign or strange place,’” Kominars said.

As humans with a biological function – homeostasis – our bodies, Kominars said, are intended to keep us safe and at equilibrium. When this function is interrupted because people are put in a different environment, especially if they have never previously experienced being away before, students can experience a wide range of symptoms, according to Kominars.

Students that do not seek help for their symptoms may end up feeling isolated, become more nervous and their anxiety may worsen. They may have difficulty making connections with others and encounter a heightened degree of stress that may affect their functionality in academics, according to Kominars.

Person-specific intervention, said Kominars, is used to address symptoms by providing a supportive environment where students can feel comfortable talking about their personal experiences.

“[At CAPS], we help students normalize their differences, connect them to resources and we validate their experiences of being and adjustments of any kind,” Kominars said.

Nicole Navarro, a sophomore majoring in hospitality & tourism, experienced symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression when she first arrived to Miami from Mexico at the age of twelve.

Besides not speaking fluent English, Navarro says that many people did not like her because they thought she was an undocumented immigrant.

“I was the only Mexican girl in my middle school. It took me years to go through that stage of having a low mood and made it extra hard to like the school. I was bullied every day and was emotionally destroyed, but I never told my family that,” said Navarro.

As a result, said Navarro, she decided to leave Miami and finish high school in Vancouver, Canada to “find herself again.”

As Navarro finished high school in Canada, she realized that stereotypes distorted people’s way of perceiving others.

“[High school in Canada] opened my eyes and taught me there are no stereotypes. We are just so blinded with negative information provided by social media and the news that create these stereotypes,” said Navarro. “That’s why after [high school] graduation, I wanted to come back [to Miami] and be part of FIU’s community since it’s so diverse. I wanted to keep that experience and meet new people and hear their personal stories.”

Navarro said her high school experience out of the U.S. inspired her to apply to FIU under the Global First Year program for international students.

“College is a big deal because it’s about getting serious and thinking about your future. Not only was I dealing with the idea of attending college, but I was also doing so away from Mexico. The program has been able to help me acclimate to college life and meet students like myself,” said Navarro.

Melissa Gonzalez, a psychology major born in Cuba who moved to Spain before coming to the U.S. at the age of 5, said her family feared she wouldn’t learn English.

“Although I was too young to fully comprehend my moving from Spain to Miami, I knew that my family worried I wouldn’t be able to speak English,” Gonzalez said. “However, that didn’t turn out to be an issue because I was able to quickly learn the language the first year I was in school. My cultural shock was also less because I was reunited with my other family members in Miami Beach rather than having left them in Spain or Cuba.”

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