You? Experiencing symptoms of culture shock? Never. You’re too open-minded and outgoing for that, right? Think again. Culture shock is a psychological phenomenon that is experienced by many people who study, volunteer, or work abroad for an extended period of time. It typically stems from exposure to new cultures, languages, people, lifestyles, and mannerisms, and arises as feelings of loneliness, anger, fatigue, and detachment from reality (and these are just a few potential symptoms of culture shock). It can sneak up on even the most well-rounded and experienced travelers, but there are some key secrets of coping with culture shock, liking staying positive, building connections, and having an open mind.
As you can guess, coping with culture shock is no easy feat, but the good news is: the stages of culture shock are entirely surmountable. While no one is immune to the symptoms of culture shock, there are ways to combat these pesky feelings. Here are seven of our favorite strategies for coping with culture shock – it’s time to get a grip on culture shock so you can enjoy your time abroad!
1. Accept How You Feel
Even if you’re volunteering abroad with your best friend in a country that feels fairly familiar or in a place that shares your native tongue, this extreme version of homesickness (aka. culture shock) is bound to happen.
The first step to coping with culture shock is to accept what you’re feeling. Don’t hermit away in your bed under the covers, but don’t force yourself to step outside of your comfort zone if you might need a little extra time to adjust either. No matter how many lectures you receive or articles on culture shock you read, you may not recognize the symptoms of culture shock in yourself. It’s hard to pinpoint culture shock, since everyone experiences it differently. If you’re not quite feeling yourself, admit you may be experiencing the earliest culture shock stage and allow yourself to ease into acclimating mentally and physically to your destination.
2. Talk About It – In Person
You don’t need to hide the fact that the first couple of weeks abroad weren’t all sunshine and rainbows; this will only make you feel more isolated. Instead, find someone to confide in. Talk about your feelings with a new friend abroad, your host family, or even a professor. Having a heart to heart with someone in the same country as you will help create (or strengthen) relationships and combat the pesky symptoms of culture shock.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that whoever you confide in will have the context and an ability to relate to your feelings, since they likely went through the same stages of culture shock. You’d be surprised how many people who go abroad experience culture shock! It might seem like you’re the only one feeling depressed or lost, but taking a baby step in striking up a new conversation with a local or classmate will help relieve any negative feelings or symptoms of culture shock you are coping with.
3. Stay Connected to Home
Homesickness can play a significant role in culture shock, so be sure to stay connected with your loved ones back home. Skype with your parents or friends, read up on current events, and blog about your experiences, good and bad. Make sure you keep a healthy balance though; a taste of home will make you feel better, but too much time spent obsessing over your friends and family back home could exacerbate the symptoms of culture shock. While talking with your friends is great, be sure to put yourself out there and make new friends abroad too.
4. Make Time to Process
Journaling or blogging about your experiences is actually a helpful outlet to relieve your stress and emotions, and will leave you feeling much more calm and relaxed. Carve out tangible time in your days to commit to just writing. When you’re finally getting into the groove of things, you could blog about your exciting travel experiences, complete with #instaworthy pictures— ready to make all your followers jealous?
5. Be Social
When you’re not feeling like yourself, being around other people is the last thing you may want to do; however, you gotta force yourself out of hibernation and surround yourself with people who could make you laugh your worries and troubles away. Make an effort to get to know others from your program or university. Branching out and being more outgoing than usual doesn’t mean you can’t have any time to yourself, but sometimes just being social can help snap you out of the culture shock haze and prevent you from becoming an anti-social zombie.
6. Get Outside & Get Your Heart Pumpin’
A little sun exposure and vitamin D can go a long way— we’ll even throw in a free au natural tan. Take a walk and remind yourself why you’re traveling in the first place or just quietly observe the new country you’re in. Being outside, even if it’s only for five minutes, is an instant mood booster. You may even discover a cute little coffee shop or other small nook and cranny businesses that might become your new “go to” area.
Take it one step further and get those endorphins flowing with a little exercise! Turn that walk into a jog. No matter if you’re indoors or outdoors, exercising can be a huge help when it comes to dealing with culture shock, by relieving stress and providing a positive mindset.
Traveling to a new place was the cause of your culture shock, so traveling to cure this feeling may seem counterintuitive; however, planning a side trip can get you amped on travel again and distract you from the culture shock stage you’re in. Get a fresh perspective on the world, see new things, meet new people, and form stronger bonds with the people you’re studying or volunteering abroad with as you traipse about the globe.
Once you get back from your adventure abroad, your original destination may feel a bit more like home.
Don’t let the fear of experiencing culture shock deter you away from traveling abroad — it’s inevitable and happens to everyone. If you want to prepare ahead of time to have the symptoms of culture shock feel more like dipping your toe in the pool rather than a straight up cannonball, you can mentally prepare by researching your country’s culture, language, and lifestyle as much as possible. Your experience abroad, overall, will feel like an emotional roller coaster – you’ll definitely have your ups and downs. But, in order to cope with culture shock, it’s important to stay positive, stay connected with those you care about, and open your mind and perspective to taking new, greater, and adventurous leaps. Culture shock, shmulture shock!