Culture Shock - How to cope with it + strategies to prepare yourself before you move abroad



Today I want to talk about a topic, which is very important but often overlooked.
So you made the decision to move abroad or to study in another country for a couple of semesters. Congratulations!

The tickets are booked, the bags are packed, you are more than ready to begin a new chapter in your life.

But are you really prepared for this important step in your life?

Many people think that moving abroad is just about packing your belongings, hopping on the next plane and start living your new life. But that is not true. Do you really know the country you want to live in the next couple of years? Do you know the country's history? Do you know about the social customs, religions and even political structures? If not, now is the best time to prepare yourself for it.

Now, what is "culture shock" exactly?

Culture shock is defined as "the feeling of confusion, doubt or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to."¹ Or you also could say a "mismatch of cultural attitudes."

So, how can you prevent this feeling of confusion, doubt or nervousness? You might think it is impossible to prepare yourself or you might even think that you won't suffer from a culture shock. This not entirely true. Keep on reading.
In order to overcome this emotional rollercoaster (emotions can vary from excitement in the beginning to a depression while you are adjusting yourself in a new country), you should start way before you even think about buying plane tickets. Try to read as much as you can about this country. Google pictures, try to get to know people from there (there are usually communities from different countries in bigger cities), go to a restaurant and try the food. There are a lot of different options for you to explore.

You have to try to change your attitude towards other cultures and way of lives. If you are not willing to do that, you certainly won't "survive" in a different country. And don't forget that preparing yourself for this big step in your life will broaden your horizon and you will have an experience, no one will never be able to take away from you. If you are not willing to prepare yourself or change your attitude you should probably reconsider your wish to live in another country.

If you are going to another country it is easy to judge the culture or anything that is different than what we are used to. You need to be open-minded. Try to get rid of certain stereotypes. But you should know that no matter how well prepared you think you are, it is almost inevitable that you experience at least one symptom of culture shock. But that is okay.

What are the phases of culture shock?

You are probably thinking to yourself why there are different stages of culture shock. Isn't it just one stage (being homesick for example). The answer is no. Everyone who experiences culture shock goes through 6 different stages. The first stage starts way before you are even leaving to plane in your new country.

Preliminary stage: you are learning things about the country you want to live in. Preparation is important at this stage. This also includes preparing your family and friends for the day of your departure.

Initial euphoria: this stage begins when you arrive in your new country and usually ends after a couple of weeks.

Irritability: during this stage, you are acclimating to your surroundings. You will most likely have some feelings of frustration. This is due to the fact that you are still getting used to the everyday life. It is usually because most things will be still foreign to you. You will focus on the differences between your home and the new country. Even the smallest things can be challenging and frustrating. If you don't want to lengthen the process of getting used to a new culture you should not avoid meeting locals.

Gradual adjustment: The new culture will become more and more familiar with you. You will begin to orient yourself and frustration won't be a major part of your daily life anymore.

Adaptation and biculturalism: at this stage, you will feel more and more part of the new culture. You will also feel less foreign and your ability to function well in your daily life increases significantly.

Re-entry phase: this is for the people who do not want to immigrate to another country. But students or people who work and travel fall in this category. The re-entry phase begins as soon as you enter your home country. Once you are there, you can't wait to share your experiences with your family and friends. Your stay in another country has changed you. You gained an amazing experience no one will ever be able to take away from you.

You should keep in mind that the above-mentioned stages of culture shock don't have a specific timeframe. Some people might have a shorter time of adjustment than others. But that is okay. We are all different and there is no need to panic if you have difficulties adjusting to another culture.

What can I do to cope with culture shock?

Here are my 8 tips for you how to survive a culture shock

1. Make friends with a local. Yes. This is very important. Someone who knows the city/culture/country is a great help for your first days after your arrival and who knows, maybe he/she will be a life-long friend?

2. Find someone from your country. Or if you can't find someone, try to find someone who speaks your language. It can ease your anxiety. People who are going through the same are a great support.

3. Be a tourist. This sounds so cheesy but how do you want to get to know a different culture if you don't go out there and explore? Try the food, visit famous sites, get a haircut. Anything that brings you closer to the citizens is a good way to get to know your new country.

4. Challenge yourself. You can cooperate this step with step #3. Like I mentioned earlier, especially in the beginning, even the smallest tasks can seem pretty overwhelming. Go to the grocery store, a museum, a gym. Everything that seems normal at home might be tricky in another country. But if you mastered these steps, you can tap yourself on the shoulder and be proud of yourself.

5. Do something you already can or know. Do familiar things like cooking your favorite meal, reading your favorite book or something as simple as playing a music instrument.

6. Write a journal, make youtube videos or start a blog. Everything that helps you keep memories alive is worth a lot. And who knows. Maybe you'll get many followers who are going through the same like you did a couple of months ago?

7. Care packages from home. I can't stretch this enough. Isn't is nice to receive a package from your loved ones back home? Receiving candy you love, or a magazine? Ask your family or friends to send you a care package (and you can send them one in return as well)

8. Learn the language! Even if you are already pretty fluent in the language, it doesn't hurt to idioms and phrases. If you can master these, you are pretty close to being just as good as a native speaker. Plus, speaking a language fluently helps you to communicate with the locals and you won't have any problems if there is an emergency. You never know what could happen!

It took me about 5 months to reach stage 4&5. Right now I would say I am in a transition from stage 4 to 5. I think a major part of this is because I just got my drivers license. I now have the freedom to go wherever and whenever I want. I am not as dependent on my husband as I was before. And I already "challenged" myself. I went to my first trip to Walmart, alone! I was very proud of myself and it definitely made me feel like a part of this culture (even though I have to admit that except for a couple of things the German and North American culture are pretty much alike).

I really hope that this post was helpful and that you are now ready to conquer the world (or at least the country you are going to ;) ).






Source: ¹ www. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture shock