Culture shock is that disorientated, depressed feeling experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. It can creep up on you at any stage of your holiday and can leave you dreading every minute. When you’ve built up your hopes, dreams and bank account to go on an exotic vacation, the last thing you want is for something to destroy your holiday, and in some cases… your life.
Culture shock takes place because your body realises it is not in its comfort zone. Things that you sub consciously think are normal have been removed and these make you feel as if boundaries on what is right / wrong / sensible or true have been obliterated.
Feelings like anger, fear and general distaste kick in and you’ll find yourself judging others without any rational behind it. In an effort to help you better understand culture shock, and equip you with the tools you need to deal with it, we’ve put together a list of things that you can do should you find yourself face-to-face with culture shock.
1. Stay open minded. While you may feel unbearably uncertain about your surroundings, it’s important that you prevent yourself from perceiving the new and different things around you as negative. Try your utmost best to be an objective observer so that you facilitate the process of cross-cultural understanding, rather than inhibiting your experience from the start by forming immediate, negative judgements.
As you learn more and more about the country, both before you visit and while you’re there, it’s important you keep an open mind so that you enable yourself to develop an understanding of the country, its people and its customs.
2. Learn some local language. Not only does it increase your communication skills in a country in which the language is a barrier, but it also helps you to integrate yourself into the local community. While you may feel shy to speak a foreign language – and probably get pronunciation wrong – it demonstrates your sincere interest in the new country and will often endear you to the locals, making the chance of developing new friendships a lot greater.
3. Research social conduct. While it can be something rather extraordinary to consider, different places have a different conduct that can range from easy to understand to downright weird. As a foreigner in another land, it’s important you don’t try to enforce the social conduct from your country onto your interactions with the local people in the country you’re visiting. Doing so may cause locals to perceive you as superficial and even rude, which is not what you want when you’re trying to lessen the grip of culture shock.
Do research beforehand, and even when you arrive, take note of social conduct while you’re mingling with people. This will insure you do not unnecessarily offend anyone and thus inhibit your experience by alienating the people who could make your adventure all that more special.
4. BUT don’t take cultural knowledge at face-value. Even though you’ve done some research and spent time observing, be careful not to immediately attribute an explanation to what you believe you now know. Culture and psychology, Geert Hofstede believed, is like an onion – it can be peeled, layer by lay, to reveal the content. And this process of growing to understand a culture and its hidden nuances can take a very long time to achieve.
5. Makes friends. There is arguably nothing more intimidating than arriving in a new country and knowing no one. This can not only add to your sense of culture shock, but can also lead you to feel incredibly alone, ultimately ruining your whole experience. Ask the locals questions and attend festivals or events. Be cheerful and willing to encounter anyone, regardless of age or gender, so that you can form a relationship with the locals and ultimately save yourself from feeling like a loner.
6. Maintain your sense of humour. If you take yourself too seriously or close yourself off to the experience of something new, you will regret it.
Don’t be too hard on yourself and remain ready to laugh at yourself. Whether it’s a giggle at your pronunciation of the local language or a belly-laugh full of mirth at your latest socially awkward act, the locals will admire your effort to understand their ways and laugh along with you. As the old adage says, laughter really is the best medicine, and it’s certainly true in the case of culture shock.
Because while so many things can be so different from one country to the next, laughter is the one thing you can count on to unite persons from all walks of life, regardless of their languages and customs.