The W-Curve: The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Your Foreign Exchange Trip

A visual representation of the W-Curve

A visual representation of the W-Curve

The W-Curve is a model for displaying the integration process students go through while on a foreign exchange trip. The curve consists of about five primary phases, though there may be smaller transitional periods in between each. The five phases are:

  1. The Honeymoon Phase – This phase begins when you start to plan your exchange, and generally ends shortly after arrival in your host country.
  1. Culture Shock / Distress Phase – This phase usually begins a few days or weeks after arriving in your host country. Culture shock occurs when many of the preconceived notions from the Honeymoon Phase are shattered. According to the University of Hull, “the initially exciting cultural differences may now cause you to feel insecure or confused, as you struggle to understand the rules of the new culture you find yourself in.”
  1. Initial Adjustment / Re-Integration Phase – After moving past the culture shock, you may start to feel frustrated with all of the differences in the new culture. According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs, “at this stage you may be conscious of mainly how much you dislike the new culture compared to home.” When this happens, you shouldn’t worry; it’s a normal and healthy reaction. Simply put, “You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture.”
  1. Mental Isolation / Autonomy Phase – By this time, you’ve come to accept the many differences and similarities in the culture. You’ll start to feel more relaxed and confident as you become more comfortable in your host country.
  1. Acceptance / Integration Phase – The final phase of the W-Curve marks the time when you gain a better understanding of the differences and similarities between your own culture, and that of your host country. The University of Hull describes this phase as “bringing with it a feeling of self-assurance and a more complete understanding of your home and the new culture. Differences and similarities are valued and more importantly you feel confident about handling most or all situations.”

While this process generally occurs in one form or another, it’s important to remember that you may not experience it exactly as described. The overall length of the W-Curve may differ, and you may only go through parts of the curve. In fact, your personal “curve” may look more like a long squiggly line with (hopefully) an uptick towards the end.

Regardless of where you are on the curve, it can be extremely beneficial to remind yourself of this process throughout your exchange trip. It’s easy to get stuck in the initial adjustment phase and feel trapped and isolated, but realizing that what your feeling is not only part of the process, but both good and necessary can help you get through the rough patches.


Studying Abroad. (2014, February 20). Retrieved April 4, 2015, from–study-abroad/studying-abroad/stages-of-cultural-adjustment.aspx

A model of Culture Shock. (2013, August 23). Retrieved April 4, 2015, from–more/Culture-Shock/A-model-of-Culture-Shock/#

Parent Information – Parents – First Year Experience | UW-Superior. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

One thought on “The W-Curve: The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Your Foreign Exchange Trip

  1. Would you compare the stages of moving away to a different country like those in the 5 stage of Loss?

    1) Denial/ Isolation
    2) Anger
    3) Bargaining
    4) Depression
    5) Acceptance

    Do you understand what I am getting at?
    My biggest fear of becoming a foreign exchange student would definitely be missing my family. I’d be very excited about new opportunities and meeting new people, but It would me difficult for me to get out of my comfort zone. I had many foreign exchange friends at UNT from Brazil (where my mother is from) and they all seemed homesick for the first couple of months, then after they became more comfortable they all just acted like it was a second home to them. It is not easy to do things that are different and unfamiliar to us. I believe it takes some guts to do something like that.


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