Having learned English, you are ready to take some kind of international exam like TOEFL, IELTS. Your next goal now is to study abroad. You have many friends who are currently doing it and seeing them travel so much, you have been excited.
Here, we want your entire exchange experience to be unforgettable. For this reason, we want to advise you on a very common problem that our students suffer when traveling: “culture shock”.
What is a culture shock?
It is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unknown culture, way of life or set of attitudes.
When you study abroad, your routine life, culture and the behavior of the people around you are no longer familiar to you. Simply put, a culture shock arises as a result of the changes you experience as you move from a familiar place to a new and unfamiliar place. It is a common experience for anyone who stays in a new country for an extended period of time.
At first it may be difficult for you, adapting to a different way of life than you had is difficult. You may feel a little lonely or misunderstood, experience frustration or negative feelings towards your new environment, or feel sad and nostalgic.
In your normal environment, much of your behavior, such as your gestures, the tone of your voice, the way you wait and interact, are based on collectively understood cultural cues. You may never have paid attention to them, but they are an unspoken rule of communication.
In a new country, you will be more aware of these cultural subtleties because chances are they are different from your country.
Stages of a culture shock
There are four stages of culture shock:
- Initial euphoria / the “honeymoon”: After arriving in a new place for the first time, you will likely find yourself in awe of all the new things you observe. During this stage, they are more likely to recognize cultural similarities and be delighted by the differences.
- Irritation and hostility / The negotiation: Little by little, the euphoria will diminish. You’ll get lost. You will be overwhelmed by all the things you have to adjust to.
- Gradual Acceptance / Adaptation: You can finally relax. You have come to terms with your new home and have achieved a balance of emotions. Instead of feeling irritated, you are understanding the differences. You will start to have a more positive outlook, an interest in learning more about your host country, and make more of an effort to fit in.
- Biculturalism / Dominance: Reaching a high level of comfort in your new home is the final stage of culture shock. The order of things makes sense, you can talk to strangers with ease, and understand the cultural nuances. Your routine is more natural. Sure, you still miss your friends and family, but your new friends and activities have become part of your everyday life.
What Causes Culture Shock?
Culture shock can be caused by all kinds of factors, including a change in the weather, strange food, the way people dress and act in public, unusual customs and traditions. Getting used to all these changes can leave you feeling tired and overwhelmed. Even something small, like not being able to buy a certain type of food, can frustrate you.
How to avoid culture shock
You don’t have to feel ashamed if you are going through culture shock. It is natural to have these kinds of feelings. However, there are ways to feel better:
- Learn more about the language! Learning the language of the country you are in is the best way to make friends. If you have already passed an international exam, it will be much easier for you.
- Not only that … Learn everything you can about the culture of your destination country. Know as much as you can about what is considered polite or rude. Researching the country before you arrive will help you feel prepared and means that you will be less likely to be surprised by new things.
- Be open-minded and willing to learn. Observe the people around you and never be afraid to ask questions. Most people will be very happy to teach you about their culture.
- Keep your sense of humor. Don’t worry about making mistakes.
- Give yourself time. Don’t expect to adapt right away.
- Set learning goals during your trip
- Find a healthy distraction.
- Get involved. Talk to other students about how you feel. The worst thing you can do is escape.
- Bring with you some belongings that will remind you of your home.
- Stay in touch with your friends using video calls, emails, or even postcards. This can help you stay connected to your own culture and prevent you from feeling nostalgic.
- Studying abroad can certainly be daunting at first, but it will lead to incredible memories and lifelong friends.
Studying abroad does not mean having getaways or parties on weekends. It’s a challenge, an introduction to a new culture, and sometimes a roller coaster of emotions. However, it is worth it. Once you return home you will forget all the things that irritated you and treasure the memories and friends you made.