How To Deal With Culture Shock

According to Wikipedia, culture shock refers to “the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different and unknown culture such as one may encounter in a foreign country.”
Indeed, some people may feel various degrees of culture shock during their time in a foreign country. The intensity of culture shock really depends on the person, the difference of cultures, how long the anticipated trip is, how much the person is willing to dive into the new culture and many other factors. I didn’t feel culture shock at all, when I moved from Germany to San Diego, but I did feel some symptoms during my time in China. 

4 phases of Culture Shock

When you experience Culture Shock, you usually go through 4 phases:

  1. Honeymoon: You finally made it abroad and you are mesmerized by the novelty and beauty of your surrounding. You love EVERYTHING about your new home!
  2. Frustration: Wait a minute, why are they doing it this way? This is stupid? Things are way better at home. This is the phase where you feel frustrated and homesick the most. 
  3. Adjustment: You slowly start to figure things out and develop your routine for your new home. 
  4. Adaption: You start feeling at home and have figured things out. Newbie Expats come to you to ask you for advice and you feel proud to be such an expert. You even take on some of the habits and traditions of your new home country and see that while each culture and country has its benefits, they are not better than each other. 

Symptoms of Culture Shock

The main symptom is similar to a light depression. Many people feel gloomy and sad, don’t have much drive to go out and do something or meet with people. Their general attitude veers towards the negative, and they seem to talk down on their new country and the culture around them. Instead of being open and excited about the adventure that they are living, they experience many things as negatives: “These people here are so stupid, they can’t even do this or that!” “The food here is disgusting, I just want a big bowl of xxx!” Everything seems to be just blah, and meh, while everything back home is perfect and amazing. Luckily, this is usually just a phase, especially, if you are a bit pro-active about it. 

How You Can Deal with Culture Shock

When you experience symptoms of culture shock, you can either pull your covers over your head for the next months or change your attitude. Sorry for not feeling sorry for you right now, but this is the truth. Going abroad is not always easy. It is a challenge. This is why people who do this kind of stuff feel like it was a life changing experience, that they have grown by sticking it out when it got tough. Before you went abroad, you probably talked to a few people who went through a similar experience. They probably told you that living abroad made them more confident. They learned how to deal with new situations and people from other culture. They didn’t learn that by pulling their cover over their head.

So if you are ready to deal with your culture shock and actually live the adventure that you are a part of right now, you can do some of the things I suggest below. It is your choice. 

  • How to Deal with Culture ShockRemind yourself, that this is only temporary and that you want to make the most of this experience. 
  • Remember how proud you were, when you were telling your friends and family about this adventure and how much you had to sacrifice to make this possible. Visualize how proud you can be, when you get back home and can say: “Yes, it was hard, but I did it and I learned a lot from this experience.” On the other hand, imagine how shameful it would be, if you don’t have much to show for from your time abroad. Think about all the regret you might feel for all the things you said no to. How often do you think you will have the chance to sit in a Café in Paris again, or walk on the Great Wall of China? 
  • Limit your time with your family and friends back home. It sometimes can make being away even harder and it won’t help you to make new friends and experience your new place.
  • Write down your feelings. Get them out and close the book, so you don’t dwell on them. Always come up with at least one new positive thing about your new country and write it down!
  • Force yourself to see the positive in a place and repeat these things, add new things and start a collections of things you love about your new country. Start with small things like a shorter commute to school/work, easier test, better beer, that cute co-worker that you get to see every day.
  • Even if you feel like cuddling up on the couch and changing career goal to professional Netflixer, don’t give in too often. Go out and explore. Make yourself do one new thing every weekend, like trying a new restaurant or checking out a park or trying a new local food. 
  • Make a Bucket List of things you want to do in your new country before you go back home. Don’t put it off too long, because time tends to go by quicker than you anticipate. 
  • Talk to locals and ask them about their culture and all the things that you find weird or strange. Maybe there is a perfectly good reason why they do it a certain way. Let go of the idea that you are better than them. Be more open and learn from this new culture and the people around you.
  • Also check out these great tips if you really miss home a lot while being abroad and how to make the most of your stay abroad.

How to Help a Friend with Culture Shock

Honestly, it can get quite frustrating to be around someone who is going through culture shock. Their negativity can rub off on you and it can be exhausting to constantly kick someone’s butt. Don’t give up on your lame friend just yet. They are really having a tough time and need you now more than ever. Here are a few tips on how to get them adjusted to their new surroundings:

  • Instead of asking them whether they want to go out, ask them if they want to go to A or to B. It is much harder for them to say no that way!
  • Give them a purpose and a role. Ask them to take pictures with their awesome camera, or say that you need them because of their Language/Navigation skills. 
  • Try to show them the positive and remind them that they are only in this country temporary. 
  • Show that you listen to them and that you are taking their points and arguments into consideration. Be realistic, even if you are looking at your new surroundings through your pink “I-love-this-place” glasses on. 

Fortunately, Culture Shock is usually just a phase that people go through and you or your friend will still be able to enjoy the adventure of living abroad and experiencing a new culture.