What is culture shock?
Culture shock is a phenomenon that a vast amount of people will experience at some point during their journey abroad. While ‘culture shock’ might have a negative ring to it, it doesn’t always have to be an awful thing to experience. There are varying levels of culture shock, and even those who are incredibly happy with their experience living abroad will have days or moments where they’re feeling just a little bit off.
In a nutshell, culture shock is the rollercoaster of emotions that one can experience while adjusting to a new culture entirely different from their own. Research shows that there are four stages of culture shock:
The honeymoon stage: At this point, the idea of living abroad is thrilling and fascinating- you’re experiencing all the adrenaline that comes with starting a whole new chapter of your life. Upon immediate arrival in your new home, you are excited by all the cultural differences and similarities you come across.
The negotiation stage: This is the peak phase of culture shock. As you become more accustomed to the transition, that feeling of euphoria might start to fade. At this point, some people will start to feel a bit aggravated or overwhelmed by the “inconvenience” of the cultural adjustments they face, reminiscing on the easy and familiar routine you may have had back home.
The adjustment stage: You’ve faced some doubts and difficult changes, but through it all you’ve grown to find a balance in your new lifestyle abroad. Rather than feeling frustrated by any cultural differences, you’ve become used to them and are beginning to understand them much better. Now that you’ve developed a sense of comfort in your new home, it’s much easier to have a positive attitude and “settle in.”
The mastery stage: You’ve settled into your new life abroad and you have finally reached a point where you feel like you “fit in.” The way everything functions around you makes sense, you’re able to communicate with locals with much greater ease, and you’ve caught onto even the subtler cultural intricacies. You’ve developed a new routine. The feeling of missing your home country, such as friends or family, may still linger, but you keep in frequent contact with your loved ones. You’ve also made new friends abroad who have become a part of your life.
So, how do you reach the “mastery stage,” you may wonder?
Acknowledging and becoming aware of cultural differences is the first step for facing culture shock
If you want to successfully deal with culture shock, it’s important that you’re not afraid of it. You have to accept, before any move abroad, that cultural differences exist and will be something you have to adjust to. Avoiding or running away from changes is only going to further exacerbate any difficulties you may face settling into a new environment. It’s more productive to mentally prepare yourself, ahead of time, for there to be some big adjustments ahead! And hey, guess what? Experiencing new cultures and all that comes with it is also an absolutely incredible experience- so, you should also prepare yourself to be excited!
Learn about your new country
Before moving overseas, it’s important to do your research. Walking blindly into a whole new life abroad will only make a transition more difficult than it needs to be. Understanding the history, traditions, economy, typical customs, things to do and see will help give you a mental image and idea of what you’re about to be experiencing. You’ll gain a lot of valuable insights simply from reading up about a country online, or watching YouTube videos. There are a lot of expat bloggers or YouTubers for example, who give tips and talk about their experiences moving abroad, which can be extremely helpful to understand what to expect as an expat moving abroad.
Through doing research, you may come across some aspects about the country which you find really interesting or exciting. This will not only motivate you, but could remind you of why you wanted to move there in the first place!
Get out, socialize, explore.
It is all too common for expats living abroad, who are experiencing some culture shock, to want to stay at home most of the time. At home, you can be in your own comfortable bubble of familiarity. Being an expat and feeling “like an outsider” can be an isolating feeling. But alienating yourself from all there is to experience outside will actually end up isolating you even more.
Try getting a coffee or some drinks after work with coworkers, join a yoga class and meet new people there, connect with other expats online, or see if you have any mutual friends from home living nearby!
Along with meeting new people, go out and explore your surroundings. Spending time with yourself is important too, but you don’t have to do it from the confines of your bedroom. Why not discover all there is to see in this new country you’re living in? Check out the popular landmarks or, even better, just start walking and see where you end up… sometimes this is the very best way to really get to know a place!
Continue or start new hobbies
As emphasized throughout all of these recommendations, developing a routine is truly the best way to feel at home in a new environment. One of the best ways you can do this is by either continuing or starting new hobbies. Just because you have moved to a new place doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing what you did in your home country! Bring your old routine into your new space. For example, if you’re a runner, check out if there are any good parks nearby and start up your daily running routine again!
Or, why not try out some new activities? If you’ve moved to a bike-friendly city, maybe take up some biking. Or, if cooking is something you’re curious about, take a culinary class or try making some local dishes by yourself.
What’s most important is that you keep being you. You may have picked up your life and moved it somewhere else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still keep doing all of those things you’ve always done “at home.” The more normalcy you bring into your lifestyle, the less “foreign” everything you do will feel.
Learn the language
Are you living in a place where you don’t speak the language? Not understanding the local language can certainly contribute to feelings of culture shock. When you don’t understand what people are saying around you, or you can’t read all the labels at the grocery store, it can be really frustrating after a while. Luckily, there are so many great tools out there for learning a new language. Check out Duolingo or Babbel, if you want to start teaching yourself. If you prefer a tutor, look into Preply, where you get to choose a tutor based on your filtered preferences, and all classes can be had virtually from the comfort of your own home.
Learning a new language is a fun and rewarding experience. Having the benefit of being immersed in a language every day will only help you learn faster!
Keep in touch with your loved ones
Maintaining contact with your loved ones is a crucial part of combatting culture shock. Culture shock is easily made worse by feelings of homesickness. Talking with your friends and family on a regular basis will give you a sense of comfort, and being able to tell them all about your experience abroad is exciting. Once you’ve learned how to manage any possible time differences, you can set up some loose times with friends and family for when you can video chat and catch up.
And while you’re at it, if you’re struggling with culture shock, it is helpful to open up to loved ones. There’s no need to put on a brave face! Culture shock is nothing to be ashamed of- in fact, it would be kind of weird if you didn’t experience any roadblocks, even if tiny, when adjusting to a new country.
You don’t have to go through it alone. Talking about feelings of culture shock is a great release, and you may find your friends and family to have some productive advice for you.
Trust the process
The worst thing you can do when facing culture shock is to give into it and let yourself spiral. Remember why you chose to move abroad, and try not to lose sight of all the great and exciting things there are to experience.
Think of culture shock as a completely normal part of your adjustment to life abroad. Trust the process and recognize it as something that will pass with time.
Trust us when we say it’s worth it. Once you get through it, you may just find yourself feeling really at ease and happy in your new home!
These are our recommendations for how to handle culture shock. However, if you have any more questions or need further advice on this topic, feel free to reach out to the Next Station team. We are always here to help out with anything related to your journey abroad. If you’re currently looking into working abroad, check out some of our currently available positions.