Whether this is your first time leaving your home country or your twentieth, there is a high chance that you will experience culture shock. Culture shock is the feeling you get when you start to feel frustrated or irritated by all the strangeness of the new country and culture that surrounds you. Contrary to what is implied by the name, culture shock usually does not happen right away. Sure, you will likely be amazed, confused, or excited by arriving in a new place, but that does not necessarily mean that you have experienced the full range of this emotion. It might be more apt to call it culture fatigue.
Here are the common stages of culture shock and some tips for how to weather this roller coaster of emotion. Note that the severity of the culture shock you will experience is partially dependent on how long you stay overseas.
1. First Impressions
When you touchdown in this new land, you will probably feel a mixture of nervousness and excitement. If you speak the language, then you might be a bit more comfortable and up for tackling this new adventure. However, this bonus can be misleading because you might think you know more than you do, and language does not necessarily mean the same as culture and tradition. If you do not speak the local language, then you might feel overwhelmed, maybe even a little isolated.
All of these are perfectly normal reactions and you just have to keep telling yourself that you will get your sea legs and find your equilibrium in a day or two.
2. Extreme Excitement
Once you have been around a few days and have sampled some of the local culture, you will likely swing upward on the emotional ladder into elation.
“EVERYTHING IS SO CHEAP AND AWESOME! I can’t get anything for this price back home!”
“Massages, everywhere! So many massages for $5”
“No open bottle laws! I can carry alcohol down the street and no one will stop me!”
This is the emotional high of experiencing everything that you do not have in your home country but would like to. Be excited but try not to get too carried away, because the higher the rise, the steeper the fall.
3. Growing Irritation
After you have been living it up in this new place, you might find yourself getting a little annoyed with differences in how the locals run things. Lines might be more fluid and crowd-like. Personal space has probably shrunk. People might move slower and tasks that would be a breeze at home suddenly take hours longer. As these frustrations begin to mount, try to take a deep breath and engage yourself in an activity you enjoy or just get away from the situation.
4. Growing Patriotism
Along with those pesky feelings of irritation, you may also begin to feel a rising surge of patriotism. Even if you were not particularly outspoken about your love of home before, you may find that you start saying phrases like:
“They don’t do it this way at home.”
“This wouldn’t even be an issue back in xyz where I come from.”
“We do it WAY better.”
While it is completely normal to feel proud of your home country, try not to blow the glory out of proportion. Every place has their perks and their drawbacks. It just depends on what you are used to. Be proud, be patriotic, but try not to be belligerent.
If you start feeling homesick, family and friends back home are only a phone call, Skype call, FaceTime, Whatapp, or any other method of communication away.
5. Probable Outburst
As great as it is to take deep breaths and try to be soft-spoken about cultural differences, there may just come a day when you snap. Maybe your plane has been delayed (again) and you will be trapped at the airport for another six hours. Maybe a street seller has followed you just a little too far and will not take no for an answer. Maybe the waiter brought you the wrong dish even though you order the exact same thing every day. The truth is that we are all human and it is perfectly natural to lose your temper. If you can, try to apologize after and make amends. Most outbursts are redeemable if you just show a little bit of remorse and goodwill.
6. Reconciliation and Renewed Enthusiasm
Now that you got the anger and frustration out of your system, it is time for you to remember all the awesomeness of this new place. You begin to fall in love with new aspects that you never noticed, or have a renewed appreciation for things that you had begun to take for granted. You realize how lucky you are to be in this new place and that you are a privileged member of the traveling population.
7. Graduation Goggles at the Thought of Leaving
Now that you are almost at the end of your time in abc country, you start to think of everything fondly. Even all those old frustrations suddenly become dear to you and you will fight tooth and nail to be cheated out of extra cab fare by a crooked taxi driver. While it is hard to leave a place where you made a new home, remember that you can always come back. You might even be leaving for yet another foreign land, so look forward to your next adventure while saying goodbye to everything you will miss in abc.
8. Nostalgia After Leaving
Once you have left abc country for your own xyz hometown, you start to realize how great the place you left was. You may find yourself saying phrases like:
“Well, when I was in abc, I got to do all these things that I can’t do in xyz.”
“Man, this was so much easier in abc!”
“The coffee/tea/food was WAY better in abc.”
Hold on to those good memories, look over your photos, and start planning your next trip back! Just do not be surprised if everything is not as amazing as you remember.
Tips for Surviving Culture Shock
1. Be Prepared
2. Use Calming Exercises
3. Gather with Friends
4. Try to be Optimistic: look for the good in every situation
5. Be Realistic About your Home Culture
Remember that you will most likely experience a combination of these stages and in various orders with a wide range of time frames. Just try to keep an open mind, retreat into a comfort zone (hotel room, nice restaurant/bar, friend’s home), and take each day as it comes, good or bad.