How to Deal with Culture Shock - by JoAnna Haugen
You've packed your bags, read books on your intended destination and are ready to
explore the world.
When you arrive, you're entranced by this amazing new place and all there is to see
and do. But then you find that the air smells strange, the food seems bizarre, you feel
out of place and you can't wait to leave. Hold on, though … before you have a
chance to call it quits, suddenly you realize this place isn't so bad after all.
Whoa! What's going on?
Chances are you've experienced a touch of culture shock, the response we have
when traveling to a place drastically different than the environment in which we
Though culture shock affects different people in different ways, there are generally
three stages that we all go through when negotiating a new culture. During the
"honeymoon" phase of culture shock, you feel excited by what you are experiencing.
Then you may begin to feel frustrated and angry at aspects of the local culture that
you found endearing and charming when you first arrived. Finally, you'll move into a
phase that allows you to feel content with your new surroundings and routines, and
you may begin to feel "at home" with where you are.
Culture shock is a normal part of traveling, especially for people new to the travel
lifestyle, so don't be alarmed to discover that you feel unfamiliar emotions as you
assimilate into a new culture. But you don't have to battle these emotions unarmed.
Here are some things you can do to prepare yourself for culture shock next time you
pack your bags and take to the sky:
Learn about the new culture before you leave home. Read books and watch
movies about the place you are going. Learn a few key phrases and try some of the
local food before you leave for vacation. If you can prep yourself for the nuances of a
culture, you'll find it easier to anticipate and respond to those things once you run
into them on your trip.
Know that you'll experience culture shock. Even if you've done your homework
before leaving home, you will still encounter the unexpected. Don't panic. Instead,
take the culture in stride, be open-minded, learn from the experience and have fun. If
you can let go of the things that cause you stress while traveling, you may find that
you'll experience a wealth of unexpected but interesting surprises along the way.
Go with the flow. Don't overstuff your itinerary with activities. If there's one thing you
can be sure will happen while you travel, it is the unplanned. By leaving room in your
schedule, you'll be able to better cope with missed buses, long lines and cultural
nuances that would otherwise leave you frustrated or upset. A lot of cultures operate
at a significantly slower pace than the Western world, and it is not unheard of for
meals to take three or four hours and public transportation to sit around until there
are enough people onboard to make it financially possible to leave the station.
Seek out the familiar. Though you shouldn't eat every meal at McDonald's or
spend every waking hour at the tourist-only, all-inclusive resort, it's okay to seek out
the familiar if you're feeling a bit homesick. Sometimes just having a conversation
with someone in your native language can help you feel better.
Observe. Instead of jumping right in to a new culture, observe those living it and
take note of the things you can do to fit in better. You don't need to imitate someone
exactly, but observing how others act will help you decode unspoken cultural cues.
Laugh. Regardless of how stressed out you might feel abroad, don't forget to keep
your sense of humor. Look at each challenge as an opportunity to learn. And, when
you return, you're more likely to see your cultural mishaps in a positive light if you
took the time to laugh in the moment.