// 7 Tips to Overcome the Shock of a New Culture
by Linjie, 22nd July 2015
A visit to another country is an enlightening and exciting experience. But it is also a stressful one: you find yourself in a foreign environment where even the everyday things are done differently. Sometimes it may make you feel disoriented and confused, as if you have landed on a different planet. It is called culture shock: a combination of information overload, homesickness, language barrier and general confusion.
There is no sure way to prevent culture shock, but there are some tips on how to overcome this feeling and make yourself at home.
1) Be as open-minded as possible
Try to avoid drawing comparisons between here and back at home, it will only make you feel depressed and frustrated. Take the experiences as they come and don't judge. Adjustment to a new culture takes a lot of empathy and tolerance.
2) Be actively observant
The devil is in the details: keep your eye on the day-to-day proceedings you normally don’t notice at home: how do people around you go about their daily life, where do they buy their groceries, how the mail is delivered, how do they commute and make their tea. Pay close attention to body language, linguistic nuances, everyday customs and social interactions. These little things speak volumes of the culture.
3) Remember: minor misunderstandings are normal
Between people from different cultures, your languages, ways of life, opinions, and sense of humour will clash. Be patient and respectful, try not to take the conflict personally. If you feel that something is wrong - discuss it. Every faux pas brings you a lot of information you can use later.
4) Don’t get stuck to routine
Don’t get stuck to routine and encapsulated in the closed bubble of your campus, study group or workplace. Explore different places and social groups, travel, do something different every day. You can find friends in the most unexpected and unusual places.
5) Ask a lot of questions
Even about the most obvious things, like “How do I eat this?” or “What should I wear?”, or “Is this normal?” Remember: questioning doesn’t make you look stupid or nosy; on the contrary: it shows your respect and interest in the culture of the country where you are a guest. If possible, single out a person (a friend or a guide) who you feel comfortable to ask as many questions as possible, and ask away.
6) Do something familiar
Find yourself a company or a club with similar interests and do something you know you are good at: a music band, a fan community, a sports team, or a hobby group. A familiar activity will relax you, common interests will even out the cultural differences; even the language barrier will feel less restrictive when discussing a well-known topic.
7) Write down your experiences
Keep a diary, or a blog, or just a notebook. Writing is a good way to vent your frustration and confusion without causing conflict. Try this three-step structure: what happened; how do you feel about it; what did you learn from it. This technique will bring order into chaos and help you to make sense out of your experiences. Besides, when revisiting the stressful situations later, you may find humour in them.
Follow these simple rules, and you will be able to make the most out of your international experience and add the indispensable skill of intercultural communication to your professional toolbox.