January 15th 2012
Culture shock is a term used to refer to the anxiety and emotions (such as surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) that a person feels when operating in a strange culture or a social environment which is completely different, for example abroad. It arises from the difficulties of assimilating into a new culture, the cause of the difficulty in recognizing what is appropriate and what is not. This situation is often accompanied by hatred (for ethical or aesthetic reasons) for certain aspects of that new or different culture.
If you live abroad for a period of time, a culture shock will come to you. No matter where you want to travel around the world, no matter how much you love the place you’re going to, there will be things that make you feel strange. Maybe people around you always say sorry – or maybe you’ll land in a country where no one says sorry for anything! You will not be able to find your favorite drink, the post office system will confuse you or no one can make meal following the way you want. What would you do when you felt you just wanted to go home?
1. Always remember that cultural shock is very normal
Everyone who lives away from home will have to go through this. Cultural shock is not wrong. It is part of the experience, and ultimately, it will contribute to create colorful and interesting memories for your trip. A world where whenever you feel like you are at home will be boring and the journey will lack adventure if every moment is relaxing.
And don’t forget, you’re not the only one – All of us will feel strange when exploring a new culture.
2. Create a space for yourself
Traveling with little luggage is great, but don’t forget to reserve a space in your luggage for things that show your personality where you will be. A poster, a chalk box, or even a picture frame brought from home will have a great impact on your mood. Give yourself a home to return back when things are too much for you.
But don’t spend too much time on it! This is your chance to explore the wonders of the world. Go beyond the boundaries of a traditional tour, take an around trip with a camera or take a city bus. Try to go to a new place every day, even if it’s just a strange street on your way back home. Maybe you’ll discover a new street location, a shortcut, or take a great photo to remind you of your time abroad.
4. Always say “Yes!”
The best way to deal with culture shock is to stay open and ready to receive unexpected experiences when they come. Always accept invitations, eat strange foods or help a new friend. You will feel connected to people, experienced things you did not even know about their existence, discovered about a new culture and about yourself. And of course don’t say “Yes” to things that are not safe or you feel it would be bad for you!
5. Make a plan for yourself
Learn to cook a local dish; memorize the lyrics of a local song or have someone teach you the dance of that place, promise to master a special skill of where you live. Having a goal to strive to will help you achieve your sense of accomplishment and avoid letting you feel anxious.
6. Find at least one thing you love
It could be a place or an activity. Go hiking, sipping a coffee at a certain corner or wandering in the museum … when things get tough for you, go back there to balance your mood.
7. Be comfortable with yourself
Whether you go abroad to work, to travel or to learn a foreign language, you don’t have to be an expert right away. Of course there will be things you do not understand. If you make a mistake in using language or etiquette, just let yourself feel ashamed for a moment and then allow it to pass. Think about how much you have learned, and how much more you will learn when you return.
8. Make friends with traveling companions and locals
Sometimes you should confide in people who are in the same position and can understand you. Other immigrants or international students will help you feel less alone. They will know what you are going through and sometimes they will have advice to help you through it. But making friends with locals will deepen your understanding of that culture, enriching your memories of your time abroad.