Coping With Culture Shock

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or unexpectedly thrown into living in a new country for a job, you can count on the fact that no matter how much you think you know, you can expect some level of culture shock in any new setting.

What exactly is culture shock?  Basically, it’s your feelings towards new cultural cues and experiences that are different from what you’re used to.  In our daily routines, we take for granted how automatically we can complete tasks such as taking out the trash or stopping by the grocery store.  However, in a new country, something as simple as walking across the street can be a completely shocking activity.

When arriving in your new destination country, try to be open-minded and conscientious of your new surroundings.  Once you’re in a different country, you need to play by their rules, not by your own.  Doing your research ahead of time will save you from many potentially embarrassing or insulting moments.

Even if you’ll be living in a country where the language is the same as yours, don’t expect to be exempt from culture shock.  Be ready to learn and assimilate to new social cues, different gender roles, and cultural reactions.  One major thing to be prepared for is the difficulty of finding “comfort items” from home: your favorite foods, your preferred face lotion, or that perfect fitting underwear you always buy.

There are several general phases of cultural adjustment.  Initially, you’re going to be ecstatic with your new home and see similarities everywhere with everyone.  You’ll think you’ve made the best decision ever and you are totally in control of your life.  This euphoria usually wears off in about a month.

Once the honeymoon is over, all of the small (or big) difference you’ve noticed will start to snowball into irritation.  Welcome to the culture shock phase.  You’ll start to wonder things like, “Seriously, rice again with this meal too?”  Things like buying milk will seem like much more of a chore and exhausting than they ever were at home.

However, once you’ve had a couple of months to settle in, you’ll gradually find yourself getting used to all the change, with little to no thought or aggravation.  Eventually, once you’re fully adapted, you might even miss that rice the next time you’re travelling outside of your new country.

If you find yourself in the throes of culture shock, try to step back and find a logical reason why something is done differently.  Also, don’t be afraid to immerse yourself more and more in the local culture; only associating with other expats and continuing to do things the same way will get you nowhere fast.

Just remember: time and experience will make everything better.  Your hard work and patience will pay off once you’ve had the opportunity to really accept your new country and consider yourself one of their own.