The well-known culture shock. It happens every time when we head off to a new place, live in a new city in a country we’ve been before, meet different people and experience a whole other world.
I’ve gone through multiple culture shocks (and reverse-culture shocks as well) every couple of weeks. I’ve decided to type something up for you as I’ve been through it so many times.
Living in another country for an extended period of time will give you the opportunity to develop a proper understanding of a different way of life. You’ll be able to develop new tastes, adapt to customs and a form a different routine.
Although it will be an exciting and interesting time, it can be nerve-wracking, tiring and frustrating too. It’s best to be prepared for the highs and lows of your experience, often referred to as the ‘culture shock’. These highs and lows are illustrated in the W-curve below.
So, what’s a culture shock and how to handle it? – The definition:
The first few weeks are often a ‘honeymoon period’ – there are new places to discover, people to meet and it feels like you are on holiday. The period of real adjustment comes when you are trying to settle into a daily routine. Cultural differences may leave you feeling frustrated or inadequate and make you miss home.
As you adapt to your new life and develop friendships, you will begin to feel more comfortable in your new environment and by the time your travels come to an end you won’t want to leave. When you return to your home country – the process begins all over again. You will have to re-adjust to your old routine, which may not be as exciting and stimulating as being in a foreign country. You’ll realize you may have more work to do and friends may have moved on from having you around.
Suggestions on how to deal with a culture shock:
✓ Talk to others about how you are feeling as they will more than likely be understanding and sympathetic.
✓ Make the effort to meet the locals (join a club, attend events, etc.,). Interacting with local people will enable you to learn more about the culture, practice your language skills and try new activities or foods.
✓ Become familiar with the area and visit local shops, cafes, cinemas, parks and places of interest. Get to know where everything is so you feel at home.
✓ Read and speak the local language. Read newspapers, magazines and watch local television programmes and films. This will make it easier for you to join in with the local conversation.
✓ Keep a journal. This can be a time to reflect and assess how you are setting into your host country. It will also be a great keepsake and lasting memory of your experience.
✓ Take lots of photographs. These will be a great way to remember friends, places and experiences.
✓ Don’t spend all your time emailing and phoning home. This will prolong the adjustment period, it is better to throw yourself into your new life and to start enjoying it.
The reverse culture shock
This is the second phase of the culture shock (see W-curve above) and it is a completely normal reaction to returning to your home country. Some will find it easy to readjust to life back home, but others won’t. Once the excitement of seeing all your friends again wears off, you may feel down, lonely, bored, frustrated, confused and/or resentful until you become content with the daily routine. A great way of dealing with this is to talk to other people about your experiences and try to get involved in other activities to aid the reorientation process.
✓ Share your experience with others (start a blog, call other travel friends who are interested in your stories and talk about it. Your friends and family often do not want to hear about your experiences).
✓ Maintain your style and stay international: find a new hobby where you can meet new people every day. You will miss meeting new and interesting people.
✓ Explore your local area. Go outside, take your camera and see your home through the eyes of a tourist.
✓ Plan your next trip. You won’t stay home for long. Pinky promise.
And now, happy reorientation!
A recommended book to read more about Culture Shock: Cross-Cultural Analysis: The Science and Art of Comparing the World’s Modern Societies and Their Cultures
Check out this TEDx Talk about culture shock: