Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to Deal with Culture Shock

With the peak travel season upon us, many will be exploring new places.  Culture shock is a familiar sensation for both travelers and those working or moving abroad.  Remember the plethora of emotions we felt just going off to college and can only imagine what a transition to a foreign country would be like especially if it is on a long term basis.

Be prepared - It is no longer just for the Boy Scout. A few months before leavin
g, research via the internet, books, or talking to others who have been to that destination to get an understanding of what to expect. In addition, seek out a restaurant at home that serves the cuisine of your destination so you can get a taste for the food. You may even encounter someone from that country or is familiar with it that can give you some first hand tips.

Realistic expectations - When traveling abroad, we have to expect that things will be different. Unless traveling to England, never expect that they will speak English. If the ones we encounter do, it is an added bonus but should never be an expectation of ours. Secondly, although they probably exist, we cannot realistically expect to have easy access to McDonalds or Starbucks on a whim. Instead, we need to be open-minded to trying new things and embrace those differences. Otherwise, we will miss out on the best experience of this journey. Finally, expecting everything to go perfectly all the time is not realistic even at home so do not expect that overseas and when that time comes, just roll with the punches.

Be respectful - We must remember that we are guests in their country and speaking louder as we often saw on the travel based reality show Amazing Race, does not increase their comprehension. We should at least learn some basic phrases in their language. For travelers, the greetings, thank you, and asking in their native language if they speak English should be sufficient. Imagine if someone visiting the United States says to us "Parlez vous Francais?" For those staying longer, taking a class before moving although not required, would be beneficial and can increase your confidence upon arrival.

Identify and focus on the positives - Too often when we are homesick or going through culture shock, it is natural to focus on the negatives. "It is too noisy or there are too many people". If we instead refocus that energy on the positives of something they have there which we lack at home, we would appreciate it more. For example, "their public transit system is so efficient and clean or wow, the bathrooms in Japan are amazing!!"

Understand their customs - The last thing we want to do is offend the locals but if we do not understand their customs, we may inadvertently do just that as writing on the back of a person's business card is common here but offensive in Japan. At the same time, do not be offended by their actions. Since we are in their country, we can not expect them to be as prepared to understand all our customs. Look at this as an opportunity to learn from them and maybe even for us to teach them a few of our customs.

Write or talk about it - We can never underestimate the power of sharing our feelings especially with someone who is currently or has been in a similar situation. Having the support system can do wonders and if that is not a viable option, writing down your feelings can be just as cathartic. By keeping a journal we can even track our progression and reflect back on our journey upon return.

Interact with different cultures at home - The first time abroad is always the hardest, so with repetitive exposure, there will be less anxiety with each new adventure. If that is not an option, exposing ourselves to different cultures at home can be just as effective. San Francisco, Berkeley, New York and Boston are just a few cities with an eclectic mix that can give us a first taste of what to expect. How often have we walked through Chinatown or Little Italy and forgotten for just a moment where we were as we are not called a melting pot for nothing.

Do not feel it is all or nothing - As mentioned earlier, start doing research early and do not get overwhelmed with too much information or changes all at once as you do not want to go into overload causing undue resentment. Take time to ease yourself into the new culture without giving up your own. It is important to maintain a balance to avoid feeling like you are sacrificing what is important to you. Having an open line of communication with those at home is always helpful to preserve that equilibrium.

The world is our oyster and with the right attitude, we will find there are so many pearls of wisdom and gems out there for us to enjoy and learn from. So do not ask "We are going where?", but enthusiastically ask "When are we going?".

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