The minute you land in another country, you’re busy taking in everything that is new around you. You’re in the honeymoon phase, where your eyes are open to all the possible adventures that lie ahead. The excitement of the language, people, food, and scenery is overflowing with the potential to explore.
This feels like the greatest thing you’ve ever experienced.
On shorter trips, this honeymoon phase can consume your entire vacation because you never really have the time nor the need to settle in. However, when you decide to temporarily live in another country, not only will you have the rush of excitement, but you may also feel the nerves of needing to create a temporary home.
This is where culture shock can come in.
Most people think that the shock happens by being surprised at unfamiliar social norms, different foods, and a new language of conversation immediately. It is important to understand, however, that you may not literally be shocked and overwhelmed, but rather it is the idea of feeling disoriented while coming into your new every day activities.
Culture shock can go through several different stages and can be unpredictable. People often go from the blissful honeymoon stage then onto uneasiness before finally being able to adjust and get comfortable with their new home. It can take months to develop and overcome and it can affect you in unexpected ways, some more noticeable than others.
Even though you may not be able to avoid culture shock entirely, there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself. Here are ten ways to help you deal with culture shock while abroad for a longer period of time.
No. 1: Admit that culture shock exists
You’ve heard the phrase, “admitting it is the first step”, well, that’s exactly what you need to do. Accept that culture shock exists and understand that as much as you feel you’re a fearless world traveler, you may also experience it too.
No. 2: Learn about the country as much as possible before you go
One of the best ways to prepare yourself for your time abroad is to study up on your host country. Take time to read through travel books, forums, and blogs, or better yet, talk to people who’ve been there.
Taking the time to get to know as much about the country as possible will help prepare yourself and know what to expect before you go.
No. 3: Ask coordinators for advice
Whether you’re studying, volunteering, or interning abroad, don’t be afraid to ask your program coordinators for advice. Ask them what other students have had a hard time with in that specific country. Each country has its own set of cultures and learning about what other travelers had trouble with could help you better prepare. These coordinators are paid to help your experience be as incredible as possible, don’t be afraid to ask questions!
No. 4: Write down what you love when you first get there
As I mention earlier, when you first arrive everything is new and you’re in what people refer to as the honeymoon phase. Before I went abroad, one of my friends advised me to write down all the things I loved about the new country in the first few weeks. She mentioned that later when she was feeling frustrated and uncomfortable, she used this list to remind herself about all the amazing things the host country had to offer. I would highly recommend doing this as well. It helped me remember all the adventure I felt instead of dwelling on the things that frustrated me.
No. 5: Put your time abroad in perspective
At the time that I felt the loneliest, the only way I was able to pick myself up was by putting my time abroad in perspective. I sat there and thought, “Okay, I am only in New Zealand for 10 weeks to intern and three months’ total, that’s it.” That meant that I only had 10 weekends on the North Island to Explore and maybe a month on the South. Because I worked four days a week, I couldn’t afford to sit in the hostel and feel scared or sorry for myself. I forced myself to go out there, make friends, and take opportunities that came my way. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that this is the experience you hoped for, and now you’re here, so how are you going to make the most of it? Sooner than you know, it will be over.
No. 6: Stay in touch
With technology and communication more available than ever, take advantage of it! Combat the culture shock, by connecting with family and friends from home. Call home about your experience and talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling. People that are on the outside can see the situation as a whole and sometimes offer the best advice.
No. 7: Find a healthy distraction
It is okay to feel overwhelmed and need a break from this new place you’re living in, just make sure what you choose to distract yourself with is healthy. Don’t stay locked up in your house the whole time, find something that makes you feel refreshed whether that’s watching an episode of your favorite TV show, cooking a homemade meal, or listening to music.
No. 8: Make local friends
One of the best ways to stop feeling lonely is to surround yourself with other people that go out and adventure. While making any friends abroad is great, meeting locals can help you better understand their culture and answer any little questions you may have.
No. 9: Take care of yourself
Eat well, exercise, and take time to sleep. Taking care of yourself while abroad is sometimes difficult, but is extremely important. Especially if you start to feel unmotivated, taking time out to eat properly and exercise will help boost you back to your normal self.
No. 10: Get out there
My biggest advice is to take advantage of the time you have in this new country and force yourself to get out there and travel. This is your time to be a tourist and explore the country’s sites and culture. Getting the motivation to go out when I felt lonely, allowed me to make some amazing friendships, and ultimately made my time abroad so much easier.
Although culture shock can be one of the toughest aspects of traveling, it is a part of the experience just like the scenery and food. By recognizing and doing your best to cope with it, you can help overcome an otherwise incredible experience. Don’t let the fear of going through culture shock stop you from something unforgettable.