One of the Likeliest Reasons a College Student Doesn’t Want to Return to Campus
Our country is seeing unprecedented numbers of students transferring from one college to another. The latest statistic out of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center puts it at almost 40 percent! Given how much effort most teens and their parents put into the decision-making process, these numbers are staggering. Transferring costs energy, time, money, and often credits.
In my 20 years of experience, one of the likeliest reasons a college student wants to transfer can be summed up into two words: CULTURE SHOCK. Every time we enter a new culture, whether it’s a new company for work, a new religious community, a new town or city, we experience predictable phases of the CULTURE SHOCK CYCLE. It is no different for college students. In fact, entering a new college, especially when you live on campus, may be one of the toughest culture chock experiences we go through in our lives. But students don’t often encounter the concept until the global studies office is preparing them for a study abroad experience.
I have found it incredibly productive to explain it to incoming students. They are all about to go through it, and being aware of it makes it much more bearable and increases their chances of getting through it successfully, hopefully avoiding the need to transfer to another college.
So, what is it? The first phase of culture shock is the honeymoon or elation period. You can see it on the faces of incoming first-year students when they move into their rooms, meet their peers, and gather for the first-night’s activities. They are anxious, of course. But the new environment is shiny and full of hope. The roommate is wonderful. The campus is beautiful. Even the dining hall food is delicious.
At some point in the coming weeks or months, however, the elation begins to wear off as they begin to feel awkward and disoriented. The roommate who was heralded as their newest best friend has suddenly developed some really annoying habits. The campus is too large and it’s hard to get to class on time. And the dining hall food!? How did they ever think it was good? This is period of anxiety, which is usually accompanied by homesickness and desperate feelings of loneliness and not fitting it. It may even be attended by sleeplessness, digestive issues, and other undesirable physical experiences. This is when most students begin to seriously consider transferring. They don’t see an end in sight to these incredibly unpleasant feelings. This is also when some parents get desperate phone calls begging them to come pick them up. This, in fact, was what I was going through when I called my mother sobbing, begging her to let me come home. She wisely said no, wait until Thanksgiving. I felt bereft.
But gradually, I entered the next phase, the negotiation period. Roommates come to terms with their differences and make compromises. Students adjust to their new landscape, learn the names of buildings, and find shortcuts to classes. And they begin to pick and choose from among the dining hall options.
This period of negotiation is followed quickly by mastery – where you feel fluent in the new culture. It’s often a hard-won feeling that is incredibly gratifying. Transferring no longer seems necessary because they have mastered their new college environment and made it their own, avoiding the costly and grueling experience of starting all over again to find another college where they would inevitably go through yet another culture shock cycle.