Coping with Culture Shock

Following on yesterday’s post on least favourite cities, many people in the comments described symptoms of “culture shock”. There are many places that I will visit that I will love the whole time you I am there -possibly with some minor with occasional irritants or discomforts.

There are other occasions where we can experience irritation and frustration on a regular pattern.  People experiencing culture shock can appear angry, confused, frustrated or irritable. We cannot understand why people are enjoying the very things we are hating. These feelings will make us negative about our trip, the country and the culture we are visiting. Out of all of the places I have visited and lived, I can count a small number of times when I did not understand what was going on around me culturally and really felt I was floundering.  For some, the experience is so confronting, they never want to travel again. Ever heard someone say: “Nah I went overseas once but I found the poverty too much or the customs too different or the food too weird. I think I will travel at home from now on

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Suddenly things can feel overwhelming and one can feel very different

Ever had culture shock? I have been to Thailand at least 35 times and thought I understood how things work but I recently lost it in a restaurant because I thought the staff were being rude to me when in fact they were being the most apologetic they could be. It didn’t “translate” and I left the restaurant feeling very out of my comfort zone and frustrated.

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I have seen people get hit with culture shock seconds after walking through the arrival airport doors! Others can take longer. If you have a one day visit, culture shock is manageable. If you have a longer stay, it can be more challenging. It is possible to adjust and enjoy a country even with culture shock stages. I have also

It is possible to adjust and enjoy a country even with culture shock stages. I have also experienced reverse culture shock coming back home!

Coping strategies

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  1. I make a conscious effort to be open-minded about the culture and country I am visiting instead of resisting. Some days and moments it takes more effort. I try and travel locally, eat locally and shop locally

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    Lighting a candle in a Russian Orthodox Church

  2. I accept that culture shock is real and can sneak up on me- denial is useless. Even so, I have not always recognised it in the middle of experiencing it!
  3. I try and read up on the “rules” of a country – what is normal in daily interactions. Coming from a country where we expect to give each other lots of personal space, I find it very confronting in some cultures where there is no such norm. I bite my tongue in what I see as “rude behaviour” in another culture! They probably do the same with some of my behaviours!
  4. I also have some language up my sleeve- even just “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Goodbye” helps me feel I am connecting

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    Speaking French in France will help on so many levels

  5. Sleep well- the more rest we have the better we are at facing challenges. Eating healthily helps too,
  6. Do something fun that reminds you of your country but avoid idealising your home -nothing irritates locals more than someone saying why things are better/bigger/faster/greater in your home city/country. I go to a movie or grab a hot chocolate!S1207 BERLIN - 1
  7. Tell someone else and talk about how you are feeling eg call a friend

Do you have any experiences with culture shock and dealing with it?

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Comments

  1. Have seem now 65 countries including rural areas, big cities and all in between.

    NEVER had a culture shock as you describe. I take all for “normal” and just do the same. If I come back from China my wife needs to learn me “manners” whatever those are. All is relative.

  2. Hi Chris. Looks like we have been to a similar number of countries! I just visited Finland, my 68th! Be interesting which countries we overlap on and which ones are unique to each of us.

  3. I don’t know that I’ve had too much trouble with more than mild culture shock, but I do know it’s more likely to come up when I’m already tired or not feeling well.

    Your tips are generally ones I try to keep in mind, too. Reading up on what to expect in advance, particularly when it’s written by someone from your own or similar culture, goes a long way, I find. That way I’m more mentally prepared and can envision things in my head in advance. Learning at least some of the language is a great idea, too.

    I’m also from somewhere that prizes personal space, and I also occasionally experience claustrophobia, so I think the biggest adjustment when I first started traveling was dealing with the lack that sense of space in some locales…especially in subways cars or buses where the claustrophobia might hit. I’ve adjusted over the years though sometimes it can bother me a little.

  4. My culture shock would be visiting western countries and shops close unusually early (to my culture’s standard).

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