Coping with Culture Shock

September 8, 2014

pink pangea foreign correspondentI had no clue what culture shock was until I experienced it myself. Living abroad is hard, especially if it’s your first time. I’ve felt a vast range of emotions in the past weeks, and it has been hard to cope at some points. But with some research and patience I’ve begun to feel a little better and a little more comfortable. Most importantly, I’ve started to enjoy my time abroad.

Below are the four phases of culture shock:

Coping with Culture Shock

1. Honeymoon Phase – This is when everything is new and exciting, and you are fascinated and in love with the culture and country.

2. Negotiation Phase – It starts at around three months, depending on the individual, and you may start getting anxious, frustrated and angry as you are settling in and the rose-tinted glasses come off. Loneliness and homesickness may start to affect you more if you have trouble communicating in a foreign language.

3. Adjustment Phase – After six to 12 months, you start to settle in and adjust to your new country and life. Things are not so new anymore, and things start to normalize. This is when the negative responses to the culture reduce.

4. Mastery Phase – You can participate fully in your new country’s culture and language, while still maintaining traits from your previous culture.

The Negotiation Phase is the toughest, and hardest. This phase is where I am at the moment. I hope these tips below make it easier for you.

1. Keep in contact with family and friends back home. Skype is a great way of talking to your loved ones without costing a fortune. Also use Facebook or other social media sites to post pictures, share stories and keep up with what’s going on back home. I try talking with my family every couple of days. I find it greatly helps me with feelings of homesickness.

2. Keep up with your hobbies, or find new ones. If you start feeling upset, lonely, bored or frustrated, practicing your hobbies is a good way to keep your mind off of negative emotions. It also may be a good time to join a class or group to meet new people, or to explore your new surroundings. If it’s too hard to practice a current hobby in your new country, maybe try finding something local that you can learn and enjoy.

3. Make new friends. I am a social person and love talking to people. I found this a bit hard to do in a new country where I don’t speak the language. Ways to get around this obstacle can include enrolling in a language course where you can meet other people who speak English and asking current acquaintances and friends to introduce you to new people. Otherwise, a good option for me was looking for pen pals from the country, and going on sites like Meetup where I found groups by activity and locations.

4. Keep up old habits. Download some favorite TV shows, find a local hangout joint for Saturday breakfast, or visit the local markets every Sunday. Whatever your usual routine was, try fitting a bit of it into your new life. This tip will bring a sense of familiarity to your new surroundings and help you fit in quicker.

5. Go out, explore and experience. Get out and about, explore your new city and country, and experience the local food, culture and people. The more you find out about your new surroundings, the quicker you will feel more at home. Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist–but maybe try acting like a local, too.

6. Face fears head on. For me, not knowing the language is the hardest thing about living in a new country. If I was in an English-speaking country, I would feel more comfortable. It has made me shy about talking to people and even doing simple things like going to the post office, bank or shops. However, I decided that I would face these fears and talk to people. Most times, they are friendly and helpful, and understand that their language can be tough. Don’t let your fears stop you from experiencing your new life.

7. Give yourself a time limit. I found this tip to be a great one–especially when I felt like throwing in the towel and going back home. Give yourself another week or month, and then reassess your feelings. When you are sad and depressed, the negative emotions make things seem worse. Give it some time and then see if you feel the same way.

Hopefully, some of these tips will help you. The best thing to do is just to dive in and speak the language, immerse yourself in the culture, and find your way in your new city. You will make mistakes, get lost, and meet a few shady characters, but this all adds to the charm of the journey. Living in a foreign country is challenging, but ultimately, it is a rewarding experience that will change you for the better.

About Alexandra Sanda

Alexandra Sanda was born in a small town in Romania, but raised in Perth, Western Australia. She has always had a passion for traveling and discovering new places around the world. She is currently au pairing in Varkaus, Finland.  Follow her at @retrographypics.

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