Whether you’re on the gap year of your dreams in Canada, or a short-lived volunteer trip in Africa, sooner or later you’re going to be hit with that deep feeling of unfamiliarity after stepping foot in your new home away from home - this my friends, is culture shock.
Perhaps you’re missing the peace and quiet of your hometown, you can’t find decent WiFi to save your life or a cup of coffee that isn’t completely awful. So, how do you cope with culture shock when you feel like fleeing back home?
Understand that it’s normal to go through
The good news is that having culture shock isn’t a sign that anything is wrong, it’s just a normal part of the experience! It’s super common to feel it when living abroad and this is why it’s useful to acknowledge why you may be feeling insecure or anxious. You’re faced with different climates, cuisines, cultures, languages, customs, the list goes on - so it’s no wonder you can feel a little overwhelmed in the beginning!
The 4 stages of culture shock
The Honeymoon Stage
You know that warm fuzzy feeling you get during the first few days or weeks in a new country? This is it. It's often overwhelmingly positive because you're busy responding to your new environment and surroundings. It's exhilarating, full of discovery and anticipation. Nonetheless, like all honeymoons, it has to end sometime! Maybe it’ll be when you set out to work or study, but you will invariably experience difficulties with things such as the language, housing or even finding friends.
The Frustration Stage
Frustration may be the most difficult stage to overcome, but remember - we’ve all been there! The fatigue of not understanding the simplest of things - gestures, signs and the language may be setting in. It’s a completely natural reaction for people spending extended periods of time away from home. You may blame your frustrations on the new culture, rather than the adaptation process. Hang in there!
*WARNING* - Bouts of depression or homesickness and feelings of longing to go home where things are familiar and comfortable are all common during the frustration stage.
Related: 5 Ways to Beat Homesickness
The Adjustment Stage
Your frustrations will ease as you begin to feel more familiar and comfortable with the culture, people, food and languages. You’ll be able to navigate the areas and systems easier, friends will have been made and you’ll feel more relaxed as you develop a more balanced, objective view of your experience.
The Acceptance Stage
Acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are completely now understood. It just means that you've realised that you don't need to completely understand them to function and thrive in your new surroundings. During this stage, travellers are simply able to draw together the resources they need to feel at ease.
Best practices for handling culture shock
1. Research, research, research!
The better understanding you have of what to expect, the more prepared you'll be for the differences you are about to face. Learn as much as you possibly can about the culture - read through travel forums, find out about the laws and customs, read all the guidebooks, news reports and even novels.
2. Make friends with other travellers and locals
If you feel yourself going through culture shock, the best thing you can do is to take some time to reach out to others, especially fellow travellers for help adjusting to your new culture. They know exactly what you're going through and sometimes venting to someone who understands is the best therapy of all. Making friends with the locals will add depth to your understanding of the culture too and help you speed through to the adjustment stage!
Related: How to Make New Friends Abroad
3. Explore it all
“The best way out is always through.”
Don’t spend too much time hiding away! Get outdoors, see new places and explore all your surroundings. Not only will it keep you busy and active - but it will help you appreciate your new home. Live the tourist cliche, even if it’s just for a day. Ride a tour bus, grab your camera and get some snaps of the local attractions and commit to going somewhere new every day. Even if it’s just taking a different route home, you may discover an awesome new hangout or a handy shortcut.
4. Learn the lingo
There is no scarier feeling than being in a country where NO ONE speaks the same language as you. But it doesn't have to be that way! You may not have the time to master the language but knowing a few phrases is a great start. There are thousands of awesome language resources out there now that make learning the lingo as easy as pie.
5. Go easy on yourself
Last but definitely not least, go easy on yourself! Whether you’ve ventured abroad to see the sights or learn the language - no one expects you to be an expert overnight. Making silly language mistakes or fumbling with etiquette is all a part of the process. Think of how much you’ve already learned and how much more you will know before it’s time to head back home. Embrace it.
Go see the world, create stories to bring back with you because one day you’ll be back home and missing the thrills of exploring the world. Click that green button below if you’re ready to take off!