Overcoming Culture Shock

Contributed by Missi Davis, 02 June, 2016

Think you're an open-minded kind of person, who's seen it all and takes everything in their stride? Think again. Even the most easygoing, tolerant, carefree individual will experience moments of disorientation and disconcertion when they immerse themselves in a new culture. While moving to a new country is generally a wonderful and exciting learning experience, there do come moments when you yearn for familiarity. This isn't necessarily homesickness – it's culture shock. Culture shock is a lot more complex than people realize, but it can be overcome!

What Is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is a blend of many different things. While learning about a new culture can be exciting, until new modes of behaviour, new languages, and all the other new things you have to get used to become second nature, it gets exhausting trying to remember everything. This can lead to stress, and even frustration at both yourself and your new country. People also often don't understand certain things about new cultures until they've been immersed for a while. Then there's the Change Factor. Humans aren't naturally great at dealing with changes, and the fear of change can stop people from making even very positive changes to their lifestyle. The huge changes which come with moving to a new country can be very scary indeed! What is more, many expats initially worry that they're not 'fitting in', and experience a good degree of confusion. Even with a good network of kind, tolerant, and understanding people around to help, educate, and reassure you, these emotions can get you down sometimes! The overall blend of confusion, exhaustion, fear, and frustration is termed 'culture shock'. Don't worry! It's usually far outweighed by the positives of moving to a new country, and passes quite quickly. However, if it's becoming a real problem for you, there are some things you can do to help yourself:

Don't Judge

As we said earlier, even open-minded people may experience culture shock. The important thing, however, is not to let your open mind snap shut when it's 'shocked'. Try and remember that the cultural context of the people you're living among now is just as real and valid as your own. Don't be judgemental. When you feel yourself getting a bit 'judgey', perhaps do some research (either by asking around or consulting other resources) into the thing you're feeling judgemental about. Understanding tends to facilitate acceptance!

Don't Be Aloof

Plunging right into another culture can be hard. You're worried about your proficiency in the language, you don't want to get anything wrong, and you have no idea about how to 'fit in'. Better to just stay on the sidelines until you feel more confident, yes? Well, perhaps, if that's the way you feel most comfortable. But it will be better for your culture shock if you make an effort to really involve yourself in the culture you've joined. Not only will living fully (so to speak) in your new country bring your general familiarity with language, behavior etc on in leaps and bounds, but it will also help you to feel more comfortable and confident in your new home.

Don't Worry About Judgement

Think about when you were back in your home country. When a foreigner got something a bit wrong – had a language slip up, or didn't use silverware properly, for example – did you cast huge judgement upon them and hate them forever after? Or did you not really care, make allowances for them, and perhaps even appreciate that they were making an effort? If your answer was the former then you probably can't cope with any deviation from your norm and shouldn't be living in another country. But you most likely answered with the latter. The same will apply to you when you move abroad. People will be kind to you, and make allowances, and help you out when you get things wrong. Nobody will judge you for making mistakes – they'll appreciate you far more for trying and getting it wrong than for not trying at all!

Get To Know People

Making friends is perhaps the best way to overcome culture shock. Developing close relationships with people from your new country will accelerate the process of the place becoming familiar and dear to you – cultural quirks and all! Good friends can help you to assimilate, and sort you out when you're worried about fitting in, as well as providing much needed emotional support when you're feeling homesick!

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