‘Those First Few Months Were Horrible’

Cross-Cultural Adaptation And The J-Curve In The International Student Experience In The UK And Norway


  • Helen Collins Liverpool John Moores University
  • Caroline Dailey-Strand Hult Business School, San Francisco
  • David Callaghan Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine




cross-cultural adaptation, cross-cultural adjustment, culture shock, intercultural contact, international students, Norway, sociocultural and psychological adaptation, J-Curve, U-curve, UK


Since the 1970s, international students have represented a growing proportion of the global student body, yet how they adjust and how universities can support them is relatively unexplored. We conducted a qualitative study of 36 international students of 11 nationalities studying in Norway and the UK and found that their experience did not fit the dominant ‘U-Curve’ of adaptation that suggests there is a honeymoon period on arrival. Confirmed with conversations with student wellbeing staff, who suggest that anxiety and culture shock are the norm, the data allows us to suggest factors that trigger adjustment and interventions to improve students’ experience. Our contribution is a ‘J-Curve’ model comprising cultural challenge, adjustment, and mastery, to reflect the reality of the  international student experience.


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How to Cite

Collins, H., Dailey-Strand, C., & Callaghan, D. (2021). ‘Those First Few Months Were Horrible’: Cross-Cultural Adaptation And The J-Curve In The International Student Experience In The UK And Norway. Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education, 13(4), 73–84. https://doi.org/10.32674/jcihe.v13i4.3267



Empirical Article