Culture Shock and Adaptation

A Narrative Analysis of Saudi Arabian Students’ Experiences at Tertiary Education Institutions


  • Nidhi Sharma East Carolina University
  • Sachiyo M. Shearman East Carolina University


The United States has seen considerable growth in the number of Arabic speaking students over the last few years (Mitchell, 2020). Given the global rise in anti-Muslim sentiments in the world, however, many international students from the Middle East face complex challenges. There is an inevitable cultural shock that requires adaptations and adjustments. The authors of this paper conducted in-depth interviews with seven Saudi Arabian international students. We examined their shared narratives to gain insight and perspective into the challenges they face. They reported a variety of challenges, including the absence of family ties, lack of sense of community, religious practice differences, and difficulty navigating differences in verbal/nonverbal language differences and gender role expectations. This is consistent with the dimensions of cultural adjustment discussed by Kim’s (2001; 2005; 2017) Integrated Communication Theory of Cross-Cultural Adaptation. The results of this study can be applied to help orient international students.  

Author Biographies

Nidhi Sharma, East Carolina University

Nidhi Sharma earned her Masters of Arts in International Studies with TESOL certificate from the East Carolina University. She also has MBA in Human Resources and Marketing in India. She has worked as a Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant where she has taught English to non-native speakers of English. She has presented her research at the Global Issues Conference (GIC) in 2020. She is fluent in three languages and have TESOL certification and feels comfortable addressing any language barriers with compassion. She currently works as a Business Operations Specialist with a company in Greenville in NC.

Sachiyo M. Shearman, East Carolina University

Sachiyo M. Shearman earned her Ph.D. in Communication from the Michigan State University. She is an associate professor in the School of Communication at the East Carolina University. She has taught courses titled Global Understanding, Intercultural Communication, Conflict and Communication, Research Methods, and Communication Across Cultures in International Studies as well as in the School of Communication. She has written several book chapters and an electronic textbook titled Communication Across Cultures. Her research studies have been published in journals such as Human Communication Research, Communication Quarterly, Journal of Family Communication, and International Journal of Human Resources Development.





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