Last week we learned about the Stages of Culture Shock. This week we are going to take a look at how to combat culture shock. Although going through culture shock upon moving to another country for visiting for prolonged amounts of time is inevitable, it does not have to be unbearable. There are things you can do and mindsets you can have that will help you maneuver your way through the stages of culture shock more smoothly.
Learn the Language First
Ideally, you should study the local language and start learning it as much as you can BEFORE arrival. It may seem intuitive to wait until you get there to learn from the locals, but that strategy will definitely cause you to experience much more headache and culture shock than necessary. By waiting to learn the language, you are setting yourself up for the frustration of navigating the streets, transit, workings, and culture of your new home without being able to fully communicate. Not knowing the language is going to cause you more stress, not less. If you are relocating due to your job, your company should pay for language training.
Get Intercultural Training
What better way to combat culture shock than to learn about the culture before arriving in the country? Knowing what to expect will help you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally which will greatly reduce your anxiety and frustration of potentially confusing social and cultural situations. Intercultural training can be done informally with someone who is from the culture or someone who lived in the culture for a prolonged period of time. Depending on the situation, the latter might be even more beneficial in that it is easier for an outsider to observe cultural differences than a native to the culture. You can also have formal intercultural classes taught by an expert in the culture. If your international move is job-related, you can ask the company to pay for your intercultural training.
Have an Open Mind
Open-mindedness is essential for combatting culture shock. There is nothing more harmful to an easy cultural transition than a closed mind. If you are from the US, the mindset can tend to be that the American way of doing things is the best way to do things. This mindset is very closed and harmful when trying to smoothly ease into a whole new culture. You must realize that there are many ways of doing things and there is not a "right way" and a "wrong way." The cultural norms for one culture will not work in another. Although something may be best practice in the US does not mean that it will be the best for the new culture. Learn how the locals do things and why they do them. You might find that you actually like their way of doing things better than your home culture's way.
Have the Right Mindset
Upon immersing yourself into a new culture, no matter how prepared you are beforehand, you will experience culture shock at some point. Part of having the right mindset means knowing that experiencing culture shock is normal. Another part of having the right mindset is realizing that each stage of culture shock will not last forever. Eventually, you will pass through the stages of culture shock and will reach your new normal. The discomfort of learning new things and feeling lost will end. While knowing it is normal and that it will end will not keep you from experiencing culture shock, it will make it more bearable as you go through the transition period.
Bring Your Favorite Things
Part of what makes culture shock so difficult is realizing that your new home is very different than your old one. Although you may be able to find a Mcdonald's or even a Starbucks, you may not find your favorite food at the store. Bring your favorite candy, drink, or dressing to save for an occasion when you are really craving a taste of home. You might even bring ingredients to make your favorite meal if they are not readily available where you are going. Other things you might consider bringing are home decor items, your favorite games, and maybe a few favorite books. Bringing your favorite things from home can help you work though particularly difficult days when homesickness is hitting hard.
Find Some New Favorite Things
Simply waxing nostalgic will not help you transition into your new life. Pining for life as it was will not be good for your mental health and will lengthen your time experiencing culture shock. You need to find some new favorite things from the new culture to look forward to on a daily and weekly basis. Find a coffee shop, a bakery, a restaurant, a new favorite food, a new drink. Find cultural things that make you happy and that form your new life. Find a new hobby that connects you with locals. Forming connections to the culture and people of your new surroundings will help make it feel more like home and help you transition more quickly and smoothly.
If you need help with a future international transition, contact us for your language and intercultural needs!