How to Overcome Culture Shock

by Peter Lee on November 7, 2011

in Cultural Adaptation

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When people move from one country to another and encounter a different culture, they normally face a tremendous level of stress. This is often referred to as culture shock. They initially experience a “honeymoon period” during which everything in the new adapted culture looks interesting and exotic. But this usually lasts only for a few months, then a sense of disconnect, disorientation, and confusion begins and you don’t understand why you are struggling so much. The impact would be much bigger for spouses who are mostly staying at home. The level of culture shock may vary from person to person, but it is inevitable for most people – you can’t go over it or under it but have to go through it! Healthy people will learn to adapt and can come out of a culture shock stronger as they reestablish their life structures and build relationships with new people.

Counter-Measures to Culture Shock

While going through a culture shock, it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on your personality, you may behave or feel very differently, but none of these feelings and urges will be hugely constructive. The good news is that there are ways to counter culture shock and prevent these negative, unproductive personal reactions. Remember that you are not alone in this. Most people going into a new culture need time to find new ways to recharge and refresh themselves in the new setting and thus go through culture shock. It’s a matter of finding and re-developing a life structure and routine and habits that will work for you. So, if you ever find yourself feeling or behaving in the following ways while going through a culture shock, try the following tips below each statement.

“I’m so distracted that I can’t seem to focus. I feel restless and don’t know why.”

You need to try more varied, fun activities that you find enjoyable. Depending on your interest, you might want to register for an art or music class, sign up for a gymn and aerobics, or take tennis or golf lessons. Schedule them in your calendar and make them a part of your routine. Get yourself engaged in productive and fun activities. Otherwise, unproductive activities – such as endless surfing on the internet or watching movies – might replace them. You might be restless because you are just not doing enough stimulation activities.

“I’ve been getting easily angry and even aggressive with people.”

Perhaps you don’t feel you are receiving enough due respect from others or the new environment is making the line of command and authority unclear. Try to clarify these with people around you, but try to be more tactful and cautious and more indirect than you’d normally handle it in your home culture. You might want to read more on the local culture and etiquette so that you know whether you are making any cultural mistakes, which could cause the local people to mistreat you. If there’s any cultural adaptation training being offered, make sure to attend.

“I can’t seem to make even simple decisions and I am finding it so hard to take any actions!”

Do you have someone to whom you can unload your concerns and share your thoughts? You need to use a soundboard when you feel this way. This could be what’s been missing in your personal relationships. Perhaps you had someone like that before moving, but haven’t found a new person yet. Also, you could perhaps use some quiet time alone when you can reflect and think through your life, work, your time, future, and write journal entries.

“I feel like just staying home by myself all day and not see anyone.”

Have you been in constant social contact lately? Is too much time with people draining you? Or hassles and noises of your new environment wearing you down? This desire to isolate yourself can be a healthy one if you are a person who needs time alone to recharge but haven’t had enough chance to do so. Perhaps you had a favorite park or beach or coffee shop that you used to go to for this recharging to take place, but you haven’t found new places in the new setting. I’d say go out and try several places that could resemble your personal retreat place.

You Have the Power to Overcome It

Try these tips when you are going through culture shock. But make sure you don’t leave yourself to continue to feel or behave in ways you don’t like. Your feelings will vary under culture shock, but you do have a lot of power and control over the way you respond to those feelings and make choices. By responding with positive and constructive behaviors rather than giving in to the negative feelings, you will lead a healthy, productive life even under heavy cross-cultural stresses.

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