Being enamored with life abroad; we sometimes think ‘the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.’ The fondness we entered the country can be replaced with resentment, fear of newness or inability to adjust when we encounter simple things that we cannot understand. As we encounter so many new things and try to learn from our experiences; exhaustion can set it. It’s tiring to keep learning new things; things we thought we already knew because we’re adults. Because of confusion and exhaustion, we may revert back to our ‘normal ways’ and may unknowingly misbehave. When this happens others may not understand how to help us and in their impatience are rude to us, ignore us or isolate us. This only creates more fear inside of us to go out into the new world we once were fascinated with, stay at home ‘clam up’ and ‘retreat into our shells’. We may feel comfort in our own home, among our own friends and family from our own culture; but the kinds of comfort that keeps us isolated also increases our resentment when we still are unable to do simple day to day tasks we used to be able to do. In short, we find it hard to enjoy life the same way that we used to.
This is culture shock. It may not be so extreme for you. Everyone has some degree of culture shock when moving away from home. It’s natural. We have to learn new things to adjust to our new surroundings. We have to understand ways locals think and behave. We may have to adjust our mindsets or behavior accordingly. Change is scary. We also feel a lack of connection with our identity or native culture at these times. Are we being traitors to ourselves; our culture; our very identity if we ‘break down’ and change?
Culture shock and adaptation is a loss; and it is real. In order to gain new things; we do lose some ‘old things.’ Even if we never moved away from home; we’d still grow and change but it just wouldn’t seem so drastic, out of place or uncomfortable. We’d accept change easier at home, because it’s in a comfortable place among ‘our people’ and ‘our culture.’ But, abroad this is not the case.
The first step to helping ourselves out of culture shock is recognizing this us vs. them mentality as mentioned in the previous paragraph. It is never India vs. America or them vs. us. Though comparisons are natural to make sense out of things, when they are exclusively used as a way to ‘cope’ adjustment will be halted and we close ourselves down to the possibilities and opportunities that surround us in the new culture. So, how can we help ourselves out of culture shock?
Once we identify our culture shock, we should talk to others who have gone through culture shock. What caused their culture shock? What were some things they did to overcome it? How long did it take? Do they still have culture shock? Why or why not? Ask any other questions that come to your mind.
After collecting information, stories, and tips to overcome culture shock from your friends and family, sit down and write them all down. Use their ideas to brainstorm more ideas – your own ideas of how you can overcome culture shock. Rank all the ideas based on ones you’d want to start working on today. After ranking them, take the top three and create goals for yourself on how you’d use those tips or advice to overcome culture shock.
If you try this culture shock self-help exercise and you need assistance at any part of the process, another avenue you can tap into for helping you overcome culture shock is working with a cross cultural coach. The author of this post is a cross cultural coach currently living in India for a second time. Corporates and colleges hire her to provide cross-cultural and soft-skills training for corporate readiness.