Travel experts have agreed that even if you’re just traveling for a short while or living abroad for years, there will always be culture shock involved. This usually occurs when there is a huge gap between the new culture and your culture, and if there is a language barrier involved. However, if you know what to expect and how you can adjust properly, traveling to another country can be a rewarding experience instead of a painful one. Here’s what you should know about culture shock and how you can adjust with ease.
Stages of Culture Shock
In general, there are four stages attributed to culture shock. Knowing what stage you are in and what to expect next is important to prepare yourself.
In this stage, being in a new environment is stimulating, especially with regards to the new sights and environment around you. You will generally feel like a tourist in a new environment – trying to soak everything in and approach new things with interest. At this point you will be very interested in learning the differences between your culture and the host culture.
Once that excitement has passed, stereotypes and prejudices will surface. Since you focus more on the differences between your own culture and the new one, it can get irritating as you would want the host culture to adjust to you. Small problems at this stage will feel like very big problems and feelings of frustration can be very common. It is also in this stage when homesickness and missing your native country will happen.
After staying for a while in that new environment, you eventually decide to make the most of your situation instead of fighting it. Being more familiar with the new culture and its traditions will make your adjustment easier. Your sense of humor will also return as you compare the cultural differences, but see them in a funnier light. At this point you’ll also question your own beliefs regarding other cultures and your mind begins to open up to other people.
After adjusting to the new culture, you are now able to appreciate the cultural differences. You will also feel at home in your host country and the differences between cultures won’t affect you greatly. If you’re working or studying there, you’ll be able to function at your full potential. It might take a while before you can get to this phase, but you’ll eventually get there. If it’s your first time traveling abroad or in a new country, adapting can take longer than usual. However, once you’ve traveled to many countries, adapting will come easier than before.
Those were the common stages that most travelers or expats experience at one point in their travels. If you’re still in the irritation phase, don’t worry about it too much. Just know that it will come to pass soon and you should look forward to adjusting and adapting to that new environment. Here’s what you can do for that.
Have an Open Mind
Experiencing another culture is very different from reading it or seeing it on television. As you’re experiencing that new culture, you should keep an open mind and leave your prejudice behind. It will also help if you try to view the world from a native’s eyes. You’ll be able to understand their cultural practices and even their traditions if you get to know about them first before you make your own ideas or assumptions about their culture.
Reading up on the culture and language before your trip will immensely help you. It may not be the same as living there, and your language skills might be very awkward, but it’s better than having no clue at all in a new place. There are many good resources on the internet which focus on traveling and you can even read up on fellow travelers who have been to the same place. They will be sure to provide you with their own experiences and tips for making a trip to that place more enjoyable.
Create a Network
When you arrive in a new place, it will be very beneficial for you in the long run if you befriend a local. If you’re there on a trip, you can try to befriend fellow travelers staying in the same hotel as you. If you’re there as a student, it will be easier to make friends with fellow students or the school’s staff. What’s important is you make a network with like-minded people who will be willing to experience that new country with you or give you important tips.
Another way to create a network in a foreign country is to join their local activities. This is a very good way of experiencing a new culture and is a good reason for socializing. In addition, local activities can help you understand the local culture which you would have never understood on your own.
Reach Out – or Try Anyway
Language barriers can be very daunting and make communication tricky. As part of the culture shock phase, a new language will be very difficult to pick up immediately. If you’ve taken up foreign language classes before you visit another country, it could help lessen the difficulties – but don’t expect your speaking or listening skills to be perfect.
When you’re with your friends (local or fellow travelers) always try to engage them in conversation regarding their experiences with the host country. Though speaking or listening might be difficult and challenging for you, it will be good practice for you.
A common fear during traveling is the fear of safety. With this fear, travelers make the mistake of hiding in their hotel rooms and never venture out unless they’re absolutely sure that it’s safe. If you do this, you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities and experience. That’s the reason why you traveled in the first place – to learn more and experience new cultures. Even simple walks around your hotel vicinity will do you good. You’ll be able to take a look at the local culture and you might even find some good shops or restaurants along the way.
Keep in Touch
Even if you’re in another country or place, don’t forget to communicate regularly with your family or friends. It can be troublesome or challenging, but it will give them peace of mind since it’s the only way they will know if you’re okay or not. You could send your family and friends messages, emails, or you can even write a blog to share your photos and videos from your trip. In addition, these will serve as valuable keepsakes for your memories in your travels.
Experiencing the world is a very enriching experience. You can’t easily substitute this experience with reading about other cultures or watching it on TV. Although it is difficult and might seem troublesome at first, adjusting to another culture will make your traveling a pleasant experience.