How to Overcome Culture Shock in a Foreign Country

It is common to experience culture shock when living in a foreign country for an extended period of time. Culture shock is defined as the feeling of disorientation, insecurity, and anxiety one may feel in unfamiliar surroundings. Values, behaviors, and social customs we routinely take for granted may no longer serve us in our new environment. By adapting to a foreign culture, you can overcome your culture shock and develop meaningful relationships with those around you, rather than feeling anxious and confused in your new space.

Steps

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    Keep an open mind. Do not automatically perceive anything that is different to be "wrong". Withholding judgment will allow you to be an objective observer and will facilitate the process of cross-cultural understanding. Also, if you are going to a country with which you know close to nothing about, do a little background information. As you learn about the country in which you are going to, keeping an open mind is necessary, and, who knows, you may find the reason for something you may not understand.
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    Make an effort to learn the local language. This increases your communication skills and it helps you to integrate with the local community. It also demonstrates your interest in the new country.
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    Get acquainted with the social conduct of your new environment. Do not assume or interpret behavior from your own cultural perspective or "filter". Behavior is not data. For example, Americans often use the phrase "How are you?" to mean "hello" or "I acknowledge your presence as I pass you in the hall." A foreigner may wonder why Americans don't respond in detail to this question about one's well-being. Thus they may interpret the behavior of walking away before one has a chance to respond to the question to be "uncaring", "superficial" or even "rude". An American knows otherwise and would probably not be offended that someone did not take the time to respond to this question. Remember: If in doubt, check it out!
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    Do not take cultural familiarity or knowledge at face-value. Even as you become more savvy about rituals, customs and protocol in your new environment, be careful not to attribute an explanation or rationale to what you now believe you know. A little bit of knowledge can be misleading. Psychologist Geert Hofstede wrote that 'culture' is like an onion that can be peeled, layer by layer, to reveal the content.[1] It takes a long time to really understand a culture in its social and historical context.
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    Make sure you get to know people in your new environment. Respectfully ask questions, read newspapers, and attend a variety of festivals and events.
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    Try to achieve a sense of stability in your life. Establishing a routine will give you a feeling of safety.
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    Most importantly, maintain a sense of humor! Don't be too hard on yourself if you make a cultural gaffe or don't know what to do in a social situation. Laugh at yourself and others will laugh with you. Most individuals will admire your tenacity and effort to understand their ways, especially if you are devoid of judgment and cultural comparisons that subtly and perhaps unconsciously convey a veil of superiority.

Tips

  • Be patient. It takes time to adapt to new surroundings, a new culture and a new lifestyle.
  • It's always good to keep in touch with family and friends back home. However, spending too much time communicating with them can exacerbate homesickness and delay the acculturation process.
  • When one experiences culture shock it is natural to withdraw to the comfort of what is familiar. Try not to give in to the temptation to isolate yourself.

Article Info

Categories: Living Overseas