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How to Deal with Cultural Shock

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by Mihaela Schwartz (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer and an avid traveler.
Published April 27th 2013
Cultural Shock - a Challenge or an Opportunity?
A set of emotions experienced when faced with a different culture, cultural shock is a phenomenon both experienced and novice travellers deal with. It appears in most expatriation cases, but it can also be felt when coming back from a trip abroad and trying to re-adapt to the culture of origin. The most frequent symptoms of cultural shock include: unexplainable tiredness, a desire to sleep more than you would usually do, anxiousness, stress, inability to concentrate, isolation, boredom, deep sadness, irritation, obsession with stereotypes, manifest hostility, and a general impression that something is wrong.

cultural shock
Cultural Shock - SXC/beermug

The stages of cultural shock

Sociologists generally identify three major phases within the process of adaptation to a new culture. However, both these stages and the symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another. The experts also warn us that cultural shock can be felt sooner if the gap between the culture of origin and the host culture is large, and later if you are dealing with culture that is similar to your native one.

1. The honeymoon

Upon arrival, everything is fascinating, and you feel like there are so many interesting things to discover. You are in an observation phase of observation that is full of novelty: food, music, architecture, language, etc.. You tend to overlook the differences between your culture and the local one, and the gaps are interpreted in a romantic way.

2. Distress

After a few weeks, you begin to feel the symptoms of cultural shock. What at the beginning seemed charming and captivating suddenly becomes unacceptable! We're disappointed, betrayed, surrounded by foreigners.

3. The adjustment and adaptation

After a few months, you end up doing it the local way: you develop new routines, and find strategies to solve problems and communicate with the local population. The novelty fades and local habits are integrated into your everyday life. You will be surprised to realise that you have even started to think like the locals, to use their logic, which seemed so incoherent before. You build a constructive response to change.

How to prepare yourself for cultural shock

Can cultural shock be prevented? In fact, the correct question would be: must cultural shock be prevented? Actually, experts say that the greatest revelations are often made when in this kind of unstable state. Although no vaccine to combat it has yet been discovered, there are still ways to minimise its negative impacts and to turn such a challenging situation into an opportunity for personal development. Here is a set of prevention strategies anyone faced with a different culture should try:

Take the time to learn about the destination! The more you know about the culture you getting to know, the faster your adaptation process will be. Therefore, it is advisable you take the time to watch movies and photos related to your destination. If you know someone who has travelled to your destination area, take the opportunity to ask him/her some questions.

Prepare yourself mentally! You have to understand that all cultures are different and to accept their different approaches of life with an open mind.

Stay in touch with your old friends! This way, you will continue to have at least a part of your old life, while adapting to the new one and making friends in your new location.
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