Culture shock is what happens when you feel overwhelmed or disoriented after being immersed and experiencing a new culture – its customs, practices, beliefs, language, and perhaps, even its food. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture shock as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation”.
As mentioned in the definition, travelers who experience culture shock experience uncertainty, typically to the point of anxiety, confusion, and, sometimes, even depression and hostility towards the new culture. However, culture shock is perfectly normal. If you are exposed to a totally new environment, it’s only normal to feel disoriented at first while you are adjusting to the new culture.
But that being said, it’s still uncomfortable to have this feeling hanging around you as you explore the country you’re traveling to. Eventually, we will want to overcome it to enjoy our vacation or stay in the host country. So, if you’re experiencing culture shock (or you’re about to travel to another country and you’re concerned about it), these tips may help you to deal with and overcome it.
Before traveling to your country of destination, be sure that you first know what you’re getting yourself into. Learn the customs, foods, beliefs, cultural gestures, and even language (more on that later) of your destination country so that, once you’re there, you somehow know what to expect once you set foot on its land. Knowing the culture of the new country is also simply a way of preparing yourself for the changes to come. This can help lessen the effect of the culture shock.
As mentioned earlier, culture shock is very normal, so there’s nothing to be ashamed of it nor should you feel weird about it. Remember that travelers before you, both first-timers and seasoned ones, experienced the same feelings as yours. And ultimately, remember that culture shock will eventually pass. Once you get adjusted to the new culture, the culture shock will pass.
Making friends with local people not only helps you navigate the new environment, but you’re also creating new social connections which could help lessen the lonely feelings you may have due to lack of social connection in the host country.
Now, the question is, how are you going to make friends with local people? You can start by simply chatting casually with vendors, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc. These are great people to start with since you’ll mostly encounter them on a daily basis.
Taking walking tours is also a great way to meet new people. Aside from the tour itself, it’s great because you can ask more about the country’s culture and customs – something you probably feel shy to ask your local shopkeeper.
Learning the country’s language is great because it can help you to effectively communicate with locals as well as understand what’s being said around you.
Here’s the thing with language learning: you don’t need to be fluent in the language before you can use it. In fact, you should use it to learn it. Get started by learning common words and phrases, then grow your vocabulary from there. Above all, simply use the language the next time you speak to a local – greet the local with their “hi/hello” or thank them in their language. If you pursue in improving your knowledge of the new language, you may find yourself learning and understanding more words than you realize.
It is well-known that exercise is great for mental health as it is for physical health. Staying active while traveling can help alleviate some of the negative feelings you experience while you’re in a state of culture shocks such as anxiety and sadness.
Staying active does not necessarily mean having an exercise routine or gym membership; you can do so by taking walks, going for a jog, or swimming. But of course, if you want to go to a gym, then, by all means, do it – it’s also a good way to meet new people! And if going to the gym isn’t feasible, you can do exercises such as HIIT, which you can do even at your hotel room – and get the relatively similar effects as you would by hitting the gym.
One of the things you may experience while you’re in a state of culture shock is isolation. You don’t know anybody, their practices are different – perhaps, very different – than yours, you cannot understand the words they’re uttering, and so on.
Therefore, to keep the isolation feeling at bay and help alleviate the negative emotions that come with it such as loneliness, keep your communication with family and friends back home. Be open to your feelings and just have a good time talking with them.
Finally, keep an open mind to your new environment. This means that, instead of resisting the changes you're experiencing, simply embrace them or, at least, try to get to know and understand them. And besides, this is perhaps one of the reasons why you chose to travel to another country – to learn and experience new cultures!