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Travel is awesome.
You get a break from the everyday life, get to eat new food, and witness beautiful far-off places.
Whether you’re traveling for a few days or a few years, new places and cultures have the ability to change your life.
Despite all of this, new places and cultures have the ability to tear you apart. Why? It’s called culture shock.
What is culture shock?
You live every single day of your life doing and experiencing what you consider normal. In a brand new place, people have an entirely different standard of normal. Suddenly, you are the outsider that must adapt.
When you first arrive in a new country, you’ll spend your initial time fascinated by cultural differences and appreciating new surroundings.
But after a few days to a few weeks, you will realize there are things about this new place that aren’t “normal”, and will therefore make you uncomfortable.
You especially won’t like the idea of changing your perspectives and ideals to match another culture’s. Naturally, we want to keep things the way we consider normal to be.
The traveler believes the way they see and do things to be inherently better, and the locals’ way to be inherently wrong or incorrect. In response, you will cling even harder to your native culture (you may not consciously feel this way, but it’s still happening).
There is nothing wrong with you for experiencing this. In fact, it’s an absolutely necessary part of embracing life in a new culture.
But that doesn’t make the experience any more enjoyable. And the more you struggle with change, the more seriously culture shock may affect you.
Feeling like an outsider and feeling like you don’t belong somewhere is no fun at all.
Fortunately, those who experience culture shock are in good company. This list will help you understand what culture shock is, and offer some practical ways to sort through the problems you’ll likely face as a traveler.
FIRST: You Will Feel Homesick
This is one of the first feelings that will set in while traveling. Once the initial excitement wears off, whether after a few days or weeks, that feeling of, “oh man, I really miss home” will start to sink in. Don’t worry. It means you have friends and family that love you!
1. Call home.
Call a friend or family member you trust to be open about how you’re feeling. Don’t be embarrassed to talk about emotions.
Update each other on the good things and bad things. Eventually, you will still miss them, but you will feel better knowing you can reach them anytime you need to.
2. Make a local friend.
This may seem scary, especially if you don’t want to forget about the people back home. But it’s important to spend time with the locals if you want to acclimate to their culture.
There may be a language barrier, but you’re bound to meet an interesting person who also shares your language.
3. Stay off social media.
Don’t worry about what people are doing back home. This will probably make you feel like you’re missing out. Instead, go spend time where you are. Go to the beach, read, a book, go for a jog, see a movie.
Whether it reminds you of home, or just brings a sense of comfort, do something where you can be present and appreciating what’s right in front of you.
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NEXT: You Will Feel Angry
Maybe you didn’t expect this feeling to set in…but it will happen. The truth is, we are ethnocentric individuals.
It means we all think our way is the best way. All the way down to the speed we walk on the sidewalk, our way is the best. This is why you will find yourself frustrated that people around you are walking far too fast or too slow.
Especially if you are traveling long-term, you will feel an overwhelming sense of anger you didn’t know you could feel about total strangers.
As long as you are not acting outwardly on this anger, there is no need to feel guilty. Recognize the feelings, and use these tips to help the anger surpass.
1. Stop and think.
What’s making you angry? Did anyone do something to deliberately upset you? Or are your own ideals getting in the way of circumstance?
Can you see this situation from another person’s point of view?
2. Find something that makes you happy.
Ice cream? Exercise? A book? Find an outlet and a healthy distraction that can immediately ‘reboot’ you, and remind you that the world is not falling to pieces.
3. Try journaling.
Keep a journal as a way to process your experiences and feelings. Later, you can look back and see trends about what causes your anger.
When all is said and done, you will have some great stories to laugh about.
MAYBE: You Will Feel Depressed
If you find yourself in a position of stress and change for too long, you may start to show symptoms of depression. Depression is more common in expats and long-term travelers.
However, that doesn’t mean a short-term trip is exempt. Like we said earlier, if your body is sensitive to change, you may feel the effects of culture shock even on a short vacation.
Depression is no walk in the park, and we can’t treat it as if there’s a simple three-step solution. However, here are some tips that may help you out in your position.
1. Find someone to talk to.
Especially if you are working as an expat, there should be coworkers and peers that you can reach out to.
Search out resources available in your area to help you process these feelings.
2. Get enough sleep…but not too much.
When the sadness kicks in, you may have an urge to hide away and retreat from the local culture. This can result in sleeping for DAYS at a time. No kidding.
Get the sleep your body needs each night, but have heart. Resist the urge to stay in bed forever. You can do it!
3. Celebrate little victories.
Adjusting to a new culture can make you feel like a toddler in comparison to the locals. How do they handle everything so well? Just buying groceries can be a daunting task.
Celebrate little triumphs of being able to do something you couldn’t even do last week. Just take everything one day at a time, and remember that these feelings of defeat WILL pass.
MOST LIKELY: You Will Feel Exhausted
Whether your trip is a week long or a year long, be prepared for the energy haul. After the effects of jet lag finally wear off, you may find yourself still tired.
Alas, you have been bombarded by all new kind of sights, sounds, and smells, and your nervous system is on overload. Time for a nap.
Exhaustion and burnout are both symptoms of culture shock. Your body is telling you that it can’t continue to process all this new information at lightning speed. Don’t feel bad for needing more sleep.
1. Go back to your hotel/apartment/homestay.
Shut the culture off for a couple of hours to give your brain the rest and reset that you really need.
2. Take one day a week to completely avoid the culture.
Spend the day reading a book, talking to friends, watching TV, all in your own language. Your body needs to feed off of what it already understands and feels comfortable with.
3. Do neither for too long.
Yes, balance. You can’t avoid the culture for too long. Be brave, and get back out there. Soon, you will see this beautiful place the way you were meant to see it!
Don’t Let Culture Shock Scare You
Whether you’re preparing for a trip, or you’re in the thick of culture shock right now, we’re glad you’re looking for some solutions.
You will go through the ups and downs, but that’s no reason to fear new places. In the end, you will find yourself changed in the best way, with so much more appreciation of the world around you.
If you’ve survived a rough bout of culture shock, let us know in the comments how you made it through that experience!