Culture shock is about the mismatch of the puzzles in our heads. We live with established patterns of behavior and communication that work well where we grew up. Then we move to another country and observe completely different sociocultural patterns. And they work too! This discrepancy between the familiar and the new can cause a whole range of emotions – from irritation and fear to surprise and admiration.
For culture shock, it is not necessary to go to distant lands. We are accustomed to seeing it only in the processes of migration, labor or educational. But “culture” is not only about countries, languages and ethnic groups, but about culture.
Culture shock can be experienced in your country, city, and even at your doorstep. For example, visiting neighbors who cook, eat, raise children, and clean the house in a completely different way than you. Or not removed at all.
In this case, we are talking about “microshocks”. However, those who notice and analyze situations of culture shock at home, where the walls help, find it easier to adapt to it abroad.
Is there a link between culture shock and the language barrier?
Knowing the local language makes it easier to understand the cultural context. A language can tell a lot about a society: for example, if it has special pronouns and verbs for people of different sex and age, everything is probably not so clear with gender and age relations.
But it is impossible to know all languages. Therefore, if you lack language competencies, I advise you to develop observation and observation. Ask questions, notice details, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback – this will make your life in a new country more comfortable even without knowing the local language.
Language is the most important part of any culture. And if you are going to move to another country, buy a personalized bilingual book and start learning a language. If you are with kids it will be more difficult than ever. Bilingual books for kids 3-5 will help you to go into that new culture and feel like your home. Books for bilingual kids is the best way.
Pay attention to the “categories” that are universal for any society. Regardless of the language in any corner of the earth, people do things you understand: eat, drink, sleep, have fun, work and communicate with other people. As a rule, in any society you will find:
- the category of physical contact — how people greet each other, whether they keep their distance;
- category of gift exchange – whether it is accepted, with what gifts and how;
- the category of inter-gender and inter-age relations – how women and men and people of different ages communicate with each other;
- category of business communication – is there a hierarchy and what does it imply;
- category of table etiquette – how people behave at dinner, whether they observe rituals.
And many other similar items.
How can you help yourself prepare before you leave?
Before giving advice on “preparing” for culture shock, I would like to make two points.
First, it is completely impossible to prepare for culture shock. There is no algorithm or magic pill that will allow you to live a normal life immediately after moving, to be as efficient and integrated as possible. No matter how carefully you prepare, there is always a factor of uncertainty.
Second, culture shock happens to you, not to the world. It may seem that those around you do not understand, avoid or behave strangely. But this feeling of discomfort is the result of the changes that happen to you at the moment of immersion in a new environment. And that’s okay!
How to help yourself with culture shock on the spot?
Culture shock is stress for the body. Make sure you get through it safely. What do you usually do for this: sleep, eat, read, communicate with loved ones via Skype? Or maybe you close yourself at home and do not want to interact with the world? Do the same during culture shock.
Give yourself time and don’t blame yourself if in the first weeks you didn’t make ten new acquaintances, didn’t go to all the museums and didn’t try the main national dishes. Healthy self-support and self-care attitude does not happen much.
Think about what you need for the first time to survive the stress. Previously, I worked indecently a lot, slept little, hardly drank water and ate little, so my immunity was very weak. Because of this, in stressful situations, I often catch a cold. Therefore, in the new circumstances, in the first few days, it is important for me to lie down in bed and have a supply of the necessary medicines. But my experience is better not to repeat.
Create a home for yourself in a new place. When you experience culture shock, everything seems unknown and foreign. It is important to create “your” safe place where you can restore the resource. Bring your favorite toy with you, hang pictures, light a candle with a familiar smell, dress in home clothes – all this will help create a feeling of comfort and safety.
It’s great if you have a close friend or relative in a new place. Their presence and support can soften even the most intense culture shock.
Your task is to turn the stress of culture shock into eustress. This is the so-called useful stress, when unfamiliar circumstances are regarded not as a source of frustration and fear, but as a positive challenge. Although many researchers deny that stress can in principle be positive.
If you succeed, then the culture shock situation will become a point of intensive growth, give a sense of meaning, hope and self-confidence.