Research Article | Volume 5 Issue 2 (April - June, 2024)
Investigating Students’ Culture Shock during International Credit Transfer in Philippines
Muhammadiyah University of Kendari, Indonesia, 93127
Under a Creative Commons license
Open Access
Jan. 9, 2024
Jan. 19, 2024
March 19, 2024
April 30, 2024

Culture shock is often encountered when visiting a different country, just like students participating in the International Credit Transfer program who face the challenge of culture shock when running the program in the Philippines. For this reason, self-adjustment efforts are needed in adapting and communicating effectively. This study aims to determine the effect of culture shock experienced by students on their academic life while attending classes in the Philippines. Data were collected using descriptive qualitative methods with a phenomenological approach, which includes observation and interviews. The participant selection method used was convenience sampling. Observation and interview data were analyzed using Miles and Hubermans’ analysis model. The results showed that students who participated in the student exchange program in the Philippines experienced culture shock. The findings of this study indicate that the causes of culture shock in students participating in student exchange programs in the Philippines are classified as internal and external factors. The impact of culture shock on students of the student exchange program in the Philippines has been in the final stage of culture shock and successfully passed the previous three stages as evidenced by the cultural adaptation actions taken by students of the International Credit Transfer program in the Philippines.

Cross Culture Communication; Culture Shock; International Credit Transfer; International Credit Transfer program and Miles and Hubermans’ analysis model.
Important Note:

Key findings:

This study explores the impact of culture shock on students in the International Credit Transfer program in the Philippines, revealing that students faced and successfully navigated through culture shock stages. Internal and external factors contributed to the shock, emphasizing the importance of cultural adaptation for effective academic adjustment in a new environment.


What is known and what is new?

The known aspect of this abstract is the common occurrence of culture shock among students in international exchange programs, particularly in the Philippines. The new contribution is the study's focus on determining the impact of culture shock on students' academic life and their successful navigation through the stages of culture shock, highlighting both internal and external factors influencing their experiences.


What is the implication, and what should change now?

The implication of this abstract is the necessity for proactive measures to support students facing culture shock in international exchange programs. Changes should include providing pre-departure cultural orientation, ongoing support during the program, and promoting cultural sensitivity to enhance students' adaptation and academic success while studying abroad in diverse environments like the Philippines.


Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity that can offer many advantages to students. Students can learn new languages, explore different cultures, and gain a global perspective on their field of study. According to the National Association of International Educators [1], there are 8, 7 million students that will be taking part in study abroad in 2023. Studying abroad appears to be a significant life event for young people, affecting not only their academic career but also their personality development and social lives in the long run [2, 3]. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), (2017) [4] studying abroad has been related to improved communication, flexibility, and adaptability, problem-solving abilities, self-confidence, international exposure, language proficiency, and self-awareness. Chieffo and Griffiths (2008) [5] discovered that students who studied abroad experienced favorable reported changes in their attitudes toward new global and cultural knowledge, open-mindedness, and gratitude for previous chances. With the goal of identifying the essential elements of a successful exchange program, this study should make it possible for upcoming students to enroll in excellent programs that suit their demands.


Culture shock is described by Oberg (1960) [6] as a mental illness, an occupational pathology for people transplanted abroad, 'precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all familiar marks and symbols of social intercourse. As a result, those who experience culture shock might become confused or unable to understand and participate effectively in their new context.  In recent years, experts have offered new results about culture shock. According to Channey and Martin (2007) [7], culture shock occurs when individuals transition from their native culture to a new one. This word describes the physical and mental distress that an individual experiences when confronted with a new environment [8]. Furthermore, it demonstrates a lack of common signs and signals used in everyday life, such as language, gestures, conventions, and customs [9]. The phenomenon of culture shock, described by Hall's (1959) [10] book, describes the stages of adaptation faced by individuals when moving to a new cultural environment. These stages include the honeymoon phase, crisis phase, the adjustment phase, and bi-cultural phase.


Research in culture shock while studying abroad has already been steered by several researchers [11-13]. The studies centered on dimension and factors on effect [11], cross-culture adjustment [12], and strategies [13]. Hasyim & Nur (2022) [11] conducted a study on the impact of culture shock on Indonesian students in the U.S., revealing three dimensions and 11 factors. Chaiyasat (2020) [12] studied French exchange students' experiences with cross-cultural adjustment in Thailand, revealing various aspects such as language difficulties, culture shock, culture adjustment, and extracurricular activities. Anjalin, Mazumdar, and Whiteside (2017) [13] conducted a study on 9 Asian graduate students, focusing on their experiences in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Taiwan. The study suggests that universities should pair international students with host families and improve their international student development departments. The study also recommends organizing orientation sessions focusing on culture shock and briefing sessions for incoming students. These studies highlight the importance of understanding and addressing cultural shock in international student exchange programs.


Based on interviews from the participants as exchange students in the Philippines, researchers encountered a number of cultural shocks while studying there, particularly in academic life. Participants were shocked to receive an assignment from one of the classes that took such little time to finish. So they had to put on a play with a set theme, which needed a lot of critical thinking to figure out how to accomplish it, which would have taken days at the university where they came from. Therefore, the researcher wants to examine more deeply how these culture shocks affect the academic life of exchange students, especially those who undertake exchange in the Philippines and this research will use a different theory from the three theories above, namely the theory from Hall (1959) [10] that consist of 4 phases; honeymoon phase, crisis phase, the adjustment phase, and bi-cultural phase.


The objective of this research is to determine the effect of culture shock experienced by students on their academic life while attending classes in the Philippines. The research question of this research is to know what the culture shocks are in terms of communication academic life experienced by Indonesian students while attending classes in the Philippines.


The method of this research is descriptive qualitative., specifically phenomenological method. The researcher utilized a qualitative inquiry approach to understand participants' thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, and assumptive worlds through face-to-face interviews, capturing their deeper perspectives on the phenomenon [13]. There are 4 participants in this research. They are Indonesian students that participated in International Credit Transfer in the Philippines.


The data will be collected using semi-structured interviews with the participants. The researcher will ask a series of questions, and the participants will answer them based on their sentiments and experiences with culture shock and use Miles and Huberman’s (2014) [14] method for techniques of data analysis. In this technique, the researcher can moreover clarify the participant's answers. As a result, the researcher can ask more detailed questions to improve the research data. 


The participants of this study are 4 students who have participated in the International Credit Transfer Program in the Philippines.  In this study, the convenience sampling strategy will be employed. According to Lopez & Whitehead (2013) [15], convenience sampling is a properly quick and easy technique to get the required sample size for the study. Convenience sampling is employed because there is intimacy and familiarity, which facilitates communication simpler. The selection of participants was based on the closeness of the researcher and the participants, 3 participants were the roommates of the researcher and 1 participant was a teammate in an annual sports event organized by the campus during student exchange in the Philippines.


In this study, semi-structured interviews will serve as the research instrument. Before conducting interviews, the researcher had made initial observations by filling out closed ended questions distributed through the WhatsApp application in February 2024 with the number of participants who filled out the questionnaire as many as 4 people that participated in the International Credit Transfer in the Philippines. An interview is normally a face-to-face discussion in which a participant provides information to the researcher [13]. Interviews are specifically utilized in qualitative research to explore the meanings of major topics in the participants' lives. Understanding the meaning of the interviewees' statements is the primary goal of the interview process [16].  The topics of the interview questions included college experiences; educational system and classroom environment. Data analysis is the act of gathering, cleaning, modifying, and modeling data in order to identify usable information, draw conclusions, and support decision-making. According to Miles & Huberman (2014) [14], there are three steps to analyzing; data reduction, data display, and conclusion and verification.


This research included four students who took part in an International Credit Transfer program in the Philippines. The four exchange students were interviewed in a semi-structured interview exploring the emotional and psychological stages experienced by the students during their adaptation process, as well as the challenges faced in dealing with cultural and language differences. Therefore, based on the results of data analysis, it was found that there are several stages of culture shock and this is also stated by Hall (1959) [10].

Table 1. Demography of Participants









Honeymoon Phase

According to an interview with IS, one of the students who participated in the student exchange program in the Philippines and was the first respondent, IS described her emotions when she first arrived in the Philippines as mixed. She felt fearful because she was in a country with a non-Muslim majority and worried about being the center of attention due to differences in beliefs and appearance, but she also felt excited because it was her first time abroad and the opportunity to participate in a student exchange in the Philippines. 


“There is a feeling of fear because we come to a country where they are predominantly non-Muslim while we ourselves are Muslim. Then in terms of appearance we are also different from them, afraid that we will be the center of attention or maybe someone doesn't like our beliefs and then they hate us and don't like us. That's the first feeling, the second feeling is happy because it's the first time abroad.”- IS


(Ada perasaan takut karena kita datang ke negara yang mayoritas penduduknya non-Muslim sedangkan kita sendiri Muslim. Kemudian dari segi penampilan kita juga berbeda dengan mereka, takutnya kita jadi pusat perhatian atau mungkin ada yang tidak suka dengan keyakinan kita lalu mereka membenci dan tidak suka dengan kita. Itu perasaan pertama, perasaan kedua adalah senang karena ini pertama kalinya ke luar negeri.)


Similarly, in an interview with N, the study's second participant, N expressed her happiness and gratitude for the opportunity to travel overseas.


“My feelings at that time were very happy and very grateful, because one of my dreams of going abroad was realized with this International Credit Transfer program.”- N

(Perasaan saya saat itu sangat senang dan bersyukur sekali, karena salah satu impian saya untuk pergi ke luar negeri terwujud dengan adanya program International Credit Transfer ini.)


The third and fourth respondents, VN and NR, also expressed their mixed feelings when they first arrived in the Philippines.


“I feel excited, I'm happy that it's my first time abroad so there's a feeling of excitement and pride. Then there is also fear, because of how to communicate with them and how to adapt later, the fear is like that”. - VN


(Perasaan saya senang, senang karena ini pertama kalinya saya ke luar negeri, jadi ada perasaan senang dan bangga. Lalu ada juga rasa takut, karena bagaimana berkomunikasi dengan mereka dan bagaimana beradaptasi nantinya, rasa takutnya seperti itu).


When I firstcame to the Philippines, I felt so scared, nervous and excited at the same time. Because it was my first time being far from home, alone”. – NR


(Ketika saya pertama kali datang ke Filipina, saya merasa sangat takut, gugup, dan bersemangat pada saat yang bersamaan. Karena ini adalah pengalaman pertama saya berada jauh dari rumah, sendirian).


The researcher as one of the students who participated in this student exchange also experienced the honeymoon phase. The researcher feels very happy to be able to carry out exchanges in other countries because this is a very valuable opportunity and not everyone has the same opportunity.


These moments experienced by the participants are part of the honeymoon phase because of the feelings of happiness and fear from the participants, which is in line with the definition of the honeymoon phase where individuals often feel excited and fear when they first arrive in a new environment.


Crisis Phase

"They have a really quick learning curve in class. Lecturers explain quickly before assigning tasks and quizzes, something I didn't have at my home university. It's like that: every lecture, whether at the beginning or ends, must have a quiz. So it's quite difficult for me." - IS


(Menurut saya, mereka disana itu sangat cepat proses belajar mengajarnya di kelas. Dosen sangat cepat dalam menjelaskan, lalu memberi tugas dan juga kuis. Karena kami yang di Universitas asal tidak ada kuis seperti itu. Disana itu seperti itu, di setiap kali perkuliahan entah itu di awal atau di akhir perkuliahan pasti terdapat kuisnya. Jadi itu cukup sulit bagi saya).


   “Quiz every week, even in a week you can get a quiz three days straight or twice a day, it's literally different from my daily academic life back then when I was in Indonesia. I felt almost crazy. Then, every time there was a quiz, I felt like going home. It was very stressful because I wasn't used to it”. - NR.


(Kuis setiap minggu, bahkan dalam seminggu bisa mendapatkan kuis tiga hari berturut-turut atau dua kali kuis dalam sehari, hal ini benar-benar berbeda dengan kehidupan akademis saya sehari-hari saat masih di Indonesia. Saya merasa hampir gila. Setiap kali ada kuis, saya merasa ingin pulang. Rasanya sangat menegangkan karena saya tidak terbiasa dengan itu.).


At this stage, IS and NR also mentioned that the academic culture in the Philippines is characterized by a very fast-paced teaching and learning process in the classroom, where lecturers often give assignments, quizzes, and explain material quickly. This was different from their academic experience at their home university, where quizzes at the beginning and end of the lesson were non-existent. Thus, one form of culture shock in the academic field is through this difference in learning intensity. This difference is an aspect of culture shock, where the effects that arise involve feelings that are not common and have a direct impact on individuals, such as experiencing psychological stress. Therefore, IS and NR experienced a crisis phase when adjusting to the different Philippine academic culture, especially in terms of high study intensity. And this is in line with the "Crisis Phase" stage where individuals feel a sense of helplessness due to significant differences with their home region.


N often experience a "Crisis Phase" when they need to learn their culture and language, adapt to their new lifestyle, and adjust to the differences in pronunciation between the Philippines and Indonesia. This process can be challenging due to significant language differences, such as word pronunciation, intonation, and slang.


“Almost all the Filipinos I met there were fluent in English, but some were not, like the vendors in the wet market and the public transport drivers. I found it quite difficult to use English because I was not used to using English in my daily life before.. – N


(Hampir semua orang Filipina yang saya temui di sana fasih berbahasa Inggris, namun ada jugayang tidak, seperti pedagang di pasar tradisional dan supir angkutan umum. Saya merasa cukup kesulitan menggunakan bahasa Inggris karena saya tidak terbiasa menggunakan bahasa Inggris dalam kehidupan sehari-hari).   


However, the crisis phase is a natural part of the adaptation process, helping individuals grow and thrive in a new environment. This stage is crucial for individuals to adapt to the new environment and improve their communication skills, even if it means facing challenges in learning a new language, adjusting to a different education system, and adjusting to slang.


VN experienced fear and apprehension when adjusting to her new environment in the Philippines. These fears included communication difficulties, cultural differences, and confusion about food choices. 


“Then there is also fear, because how to communicate and adapt there, what the food will be like. There are many things to be afraid of”.


(Lalu ada juga rasa takut, karena bagaimana berkomunikasi dan beradaptasi di sana, makanannya nanti seperti apa. Pokoknya, ada banyak hal yang perlu ditakuti).

There are several cultures that make researchers feel much stressed while in the Philippines. Starting from food, language, and environment. As a muslim, the researcher felt uncomfortable with things that violated her religion such as haram relationships and foods. Over time, the pressures and challenges of adapting to the new lifestyle emerged, causing them to feel helpless and overwhelmed. This reflects the "Crisis Phase" stage, where one feels helpless and overwhelmed by the change.


Adjustment phase

   IS said that there is a difference in the interaction between lecturers and students in the Philippines. Lecturers there give more space for students to do their own exploration in learning, such as asking questions and then asking students to explain or add more.


   "So, the teacher there gives more students to explore themselves during class. For example, during the "research method" class, the teacher shows the slides then asks "what is in the introduction?" while pointing to several students to answer. Afterward, the teacher explained again to justify or add other answers. So we have to be ready for our turn"- IS


(Jadi, dosen di sana lebih banyak memberikan kesempatan kepada mahasiswa untuk mengeksplorasi diri mereka sendiri saat di kelas. Misalnya, pada saat kelas "research method", dosen menunjukkan slide, lalu bertanya "apa saja yang ada di dalam introduction?" sambil menunjuk beberapa mahasiswa untuk menjawab. Setelah itu, guru menjelaskan lagi untuk membenarkan atau menambahkan jawaban yang lain. Jadi kita harus siap dengan giliran kita).


   This shows that there are differences in learning approaches between her home country especially at her university and in the Philippines, and this is also a cultural shock experienced in the academic field that makes IS adapt faster due to well-built interactions. This stage is called "The Adjustment Phase", where individuals begin to be able to build interactions with their new environment.


   Similarly to N, the culture shock experience also contributed positively to the development of her communication skills. She became more open and confident in interacting with Filipinos and using English effectively. 


   “So, with this International Credit Transfer program, I can finally be more open and willing to interact with people, because we don't know Tagalog and they don't know Indonesian. So inevitably we have to learn to keep trying to use English there.” – N


(Jadi, dengan adanya program International Transfer Kredit ini, saya akhirnya bisa lebih terbuka dan mau berinteraksi dengan orang lain, karena kita tidak tahu bahasa Tagalog dan mereka tidak tahu bahasa Indonesia. Jadi mau tidak mau kita harus belajar untuk mencoba menggunakan bahasa Inggris di sana).


   This reflects the stage of "the adjustment phase", where individuals begin to be able to build interactions with their new environment. Where she may have previously felt shy to communicate in English, she is now confident.


   “My confidence level is so low. Because I'm not used to speaking English, especially if here in class we speak English like our friends laugh, a little wrong is said to be the most wrong. There, Alhamdulillah , they build our character, ‘it's okay it's okay’, as long as we keep trying”. – VN


(Tingkat kepercayaan diri saya sangat rendah. Karena saya tidak terbiasa berbicara bahasa Inggris, apalagi kalau misalnya di sini di kelas kita ngomong bahasa Inggris kayak temen-temen suka ketawa-ketawa. Salah sedikit dibilang kita yang paling salah lah. Di sana alhamdulillah mereka membangun karakter kita, “it’s okay it’s okay” katanya “tidak apa-apa”, selama kita terus berusaha”.


   “My college friends and my roommates, they were so great, they provided me with everything I neededand always asked me about my condition. The culture shock helps me a lot to improve my speaking skill, learning skill, survive skill, learn how to control my emotion, how to communicate with other people and learn how to adapt with new environment”.- NR


   (Teman kampus dan teman sekamar saya, mereka sangat baik, mereka menyediakan semua yang saya butuhkan, selalu menanyakan kondisi saya. Gegar budaya sangat membantu saya dalam meningkatkan kemampuan berbicara, kemampuan belajar, kemampuan bertahan hidup, belajar mengendalikan emosi, dan cara berkomunikasi dengan orang lain serta belajar beradaptasi dengan lingkungan baru).


  VN and NR experienced a friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the Philippines upon arriving, which helped them quickly adapt. However, the differences in lifestyle and habits between Indonesia and the Philippines slightly hampered the adaptation process. The presence of fellow friends were helpful in supporting each other and exchanging information and experiences. Social support is also crucial in reducing the likelihood of cultural change. Social presence in certain situations is essential for individuals, reflected in enthusiasm gained from interactions, leading to a higher sense of acceptance in their new environment.


   The researcher's adaptation was greatly helped by friends from the Philippines. Researchers learned a lot from foreign friends and lecturers regarding language differences and learning methods which motivated me to be better. Because of these differences, researchers discovered a lot of knowledge as the assignments required students to apply critical thinking.


   Bi-Cultural phase

   "I think culture shock plays a very good role because it requires us to be able to understand what they say and also give feedback. So we also have to think fast and the good thing is that when we communicate with them, they don't judge our grammar.  So we chat without fear of being wrong, but we understand each other they try to understand because they are also not very good at English even though English is their second language, but they can understand."- IS


(Menurut saya culture shock berperan sangat baik karena menuntut kami untuk mampu mengerti apa yang mereka ucapkan dan juga memberikan feedback. Jadi kami juga harus cepat berpikir dan baiknya adalah ketika kami berkomunikasi dengan mereka, mereka itu tidak menjudge grammar kita.  Jadi kami mengobrol tanpa takut salah, tapi we understand each other mereka mencoba untuk mengerti karena mereka juga tidak terlalu menguasai bahasa inggris meskipun bahasa inggris itu merupakan bahasa kedua mereka, tapi mereka bisa mengerti)


   Based on the interview with IS, IS mentioned that this culture shock experience chose a crucial role in the development of her communication skills. Perhaps in the Philippines, she felt that there was pressure to be able to understand and comprehend what others were saying and then respond quickly. However, she also feels that there is no strict judgment or requirement for grammar in communication, so she feels more confident in speaking English even though she may be using rudimentary English. At least she doesn't feel intimidated when she says something wrong. This requires a process in learning new things which will then be understood and applied by the individual migrants in their daily lives.


   "The culture shock that I experienced in the academic field is, one of them is in the teaching and learning process where there are quizzes almost every week so we have to study hard and it also improve my speaking skill, learning skill, survive skill, learn how to control my emotion, how to communicate with other people and learn how to adapt with new environment”. - NR 


(gegar budaya yang saya alami di bidang akademik, salah satunya dalam proses belajar mengajar dimana hampir setiap minggu ada kuis sehingga kami harus belajar dengan giat dan juga meningkatkan kemampuan berbicara, kemampuan belajar, kemampuan bertahan hidup, belajar mengendalikan emosi, cara berkomunikasi dengan orang lain dan belajar beradaptasi dengan lingkungan baru).


   “Students there are very diligent in studying because they want perfect grades. There was one of my friends there who got a score of 98 but he felt that he had not done it perfectly and I think it is very different when he is in Indonesia, especially Kendari. So I feel motivated to study harder.  "- N


“Mahasiswa di sana sangat rajin belajar karena mereka menginginkan nilai yang sempurna. Ada salah satu teman saya di sana yang mendapatkan nilai 98 tapi dia merasa belum sempurna dan menurut saya itu sangat berbeda ketika dia di Indonesia, khususnya Kendari. Jadi saya merasa termotivasi untuk belajar lebih giat lagi”.


   There are statements that highlight culture shock in the academic field. N and NR who revealed that while in the Philippines, the intensity of quizzes was often held and created pressure to achieve maximum achievement. This shows a difference in academic culture between Indonesia (especially Kendari) and the Philippines, where students in the Philippines may tend to study very hard and want perfect grades.


   “They (Filipinos) really build our character by always supporting us to do better and not judging us when we make mistakes. So this is very important in helping to improve my communication skills."- VN


(Mereka (Filipino) benar-benar membangun karakter kami dengan selalu mendukung kami untuk menjadi lebih baik dan tidak menghakimi kami ketika kami melakukan kesalahan. Jadi hal ini sangat penting dalam membantu meningkatkan kemampuan komunikasi saya).


   According to VN as a respondent said that through her culture shock experience it also had a big impact on her communication skills. Previously, she felt less confident in communicating, especially in English. However, when in the Philippines, she felt more support and encouragement to keep trying, without fear of making a mistake and this can really help improve her communication skills because she feels more comfortable while talking and interacting with new environments.


   In this student exchange program, the researcher is so lucky to be able to participate in it. The researcher must get used to using English in class because that's the only thing the researcher can use in communication. Although the researcher is not fluent in English, Filipinos can understand and do not blame the researcher's pronunciation.


Culture shock is a phenomenon that occurs in individuals who are in a new environment that is very different from their place of origin. Differences in terms of culture, especially the gap in academic demands, and the newly encountered challenges of independence can all cause students to feel confused and uncomfortable. This research provides more understanding of the challenges faced by university students and identifies strategies to improve their cultural adaptation and communication. A series of stages occur during the culture shock experience, namely the honeymoon phase, crisis phase, and the adjustment phase and bi-cultural phase. This research sheds light on the contribution of culture shock to the understanding and formulation, as well as the development of solutions that can support students to overcome the challenges of communicating accross cultures during their study in the Philippines.


Funding: No funding sources.



Conflict of interest: None declared.



Ethical approval: The study was approved by the Institutional Ethics Committee of Muhammadiyah University of Kendari.

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