Moving abroad can be an exhilarating and daunting experience at the same time. You find yourself exploring unfamiliar territories, gaining new world views, trying different things. However, on the flip side, you might feel a little disoriented as well, especially if you have never lived abroad before.
Culture Shock is a term used to describe the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar. The unfamiliarity can lead you to experience a range of emotions such as confusion, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, and homesickness. Additionally, you might even develop some physical symptoms like insomnia due to the sudden change in time zone, or stomach bug due to unfamiliar foods. In this article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about culture shock and ways you can handle it.
Stages of Culture Shock
Culture Shock is a common phenomenon that often affects travelers and people living far from home in unexpected ways. There are four stages to the process – Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Adaptation. Although it may take months to develop and the impact of the stages may vary widely from individual to individual.
1. Honeymoon Stage:
The euphoric feeling you may experience upon arriving in another country is known as the honeymoon stage. This stage is often overwhelmingly positive during which you may become infatuated with the language, people, and food. However, unfortunately like all good things, the honeymoon period must always come to an end.
2. Negotiation Stage:
Around the three-month mark when the excitement gradually starts to disappear, the negotiation stage hits. This is undoubtedly the most difficult stage of Culture Shock and usually characterized by frustration and anxiety. At this point, you start to miss your family and your life back at home. The simplest of things may set you off.
3. Adjustment Stage:
Thankfully, with time, frustrations are often subdued as you begin to feel more comfortable and familiar with the culture of the new environment. Sure, you may face some distress even then but you will be able to handle those in a more rational way.
4. Adaptation Stage:
Finally, after wrestling with the emotional rollercoaster for weeks, months, and in some cases years – the final stage of culture shock is Adaptation. It is now safe to say that you have successfully adapted to your new way of life. You no longer feel isolated; instead, you start to feel at home.
Possible Causes for Culture Shock
Culture Shock can be caused by a wide array of factors. They don’t have to be as complicated as ideological differences in mindsets. Trivial everyday issues lead to culture shock more often than not. Unfamiliar rules for social interaction such as greetings between people, body language and general etiquette, Strange environment and climate, Food, and Language are some of the most common causes for culture shock.
But is there any way to prevent it?
No matter how much we hate it, culture shock is an intrinsic part of living abroad. You may not prevent it completely, but by recognizing it for what it is and finding ways to cope, you may be able to deal with the shock easily.
It’s essential to remember that culture shock is normal, and there are lots of other people feeling the same way as you. The things you think about affect the way you feel. Therefore try not to keep dwelling on the negatives.
You are bound to get homesick while living abroad. To deal with it, you may try to create a sense of safety by bringing some familiar items like your favorite book or a framed picture with you. Try to keep in touch with your friends and family with regular phone calls. Build yourself a haven where you can escape when everything feels overwhelming.
One of the most important aspects while dealing with culture shock is to connect with the new culture. Instead of hiding away, try to get out often and explore your surroundings. You can find like-minded people by joining group activities. It can be refreshing to talk to people who have the same reference for jokes. Try to immerse yourself in the new environment.
Culture shock can knock your confidence in the beginning. But as long as you are prepared, you’re sure to break through the initial culture shock and make the most of your time as an international student. Eventually, you’ll be able to look back on this process with fond memories.