How to Deal With Culture Shock

Culture shock is caused by the stress of being in a new culture. It is a normal part of adjusting to new foods, customs, language, people and activities, A person with culture shock may experience some of these symptoms: irritability, headaches or stomach aches, overly concerned with health, easily tired, loneliness, hopelessness, distrust of hosts, withdrawal from people and activities, painful homesickness, lowered work performance.

Although culture shock is uncomfortable, it is a normal part of the adjustment process and you need not be ashamed of it. There are a number of ways to deal with culture shock.

  1. Be aware of the symptoms. Once you realize you are experiencing culture shock, you can then take steps to deal with it.
  2. What are the situations which confuse or irritate you the most in the new country?
    1. Are you misunderstanding the host people's treatment of you? Where can you find more information about this aspect of the culture? Behavior which seems rude to you, may not be intended as rude. Polite customs are different for each culture. When situations seem senseless, remember the hosts may be following social rules unknown to you. Ask questions about social customs.
    2. If you are still bothered by a situation, find ways to minimize the irritation. Is the situation necessary? If not, you may be able to avoid or minimize involvement. Example: If women's swimwear offends you, then spend shorter periods of time at the pool. Or remind yourself that swimming apparel does not reflect moral looseness as it might in your home culture.
  3. What do you miss the most which was enjoyable in your home country? Look for ways to meet these desires or replace these with something new. For example, if you miss your favorite Japanese pickles, go to a U.S./Japanese grocery store or ask a relative to mail some to you.
  4. Develop friendships with both Americans and people from your own country. At times the friendships with culturally different people will seem very taxing. That is why it is important to have people from your own country or area to spend time with also. This helps you re-energize for interacting cross-culturally. However, isolation in either group alone causes more adjustment problems.
  5. Talk to people from your country about your stresses and ask how they have dealt with the same situation.
  6. Take a course or read a book on cross-cultural communication. Ask hosts questions like, "As I understand it, you are saying that.... Is that correct?"
  7. Continue improving your language proficiency (watch TV, listen to the radio, read books in English).
  8. Have a sense of humor. Allow yourself to see the humor in misunderstandings or embarrassments. Laughter heals
  9. Exercise and a nutritional diet also help to reduce stress.
  10. Remember that some culture shock is a normal part of adjusting to a new country. However, the more severe symptoms mean the adjustment process is blocked and you need help to move into a more comfortable stage.
  11. Find a place where you feel comfortable and spend time there.
  12. Have certain times during the week or day when you don't think about your research or problems, just have fun.
  13. When problems seem to be building up, mentally step back from them. Divide your problems up, understand each one, and work on them one at a time.
  14. If headaches and stomach aches become a constant problem, realize that they may be a sign of emotional problems, not just physical problems. If medical doctors and medication do not work, it might be time to see a counselor.
  15. It is important to maintain regular life patterns, for example eating meals at regular times and sleeping and exercising regularly.
  16. When you begin to feel depressed, ask yourself: "What did I expect? Why? Was my expectation reasonable?"
    1. Learn the culture and customs of the country you are in and respect them.
    2. Disregard your old assumptions and expectations. Be open to learning new things. Explore new ways of living and compare these to your own. Become more aware of both your values and attitudes and those of your host country.
    3. Don't be afraid to take risks.
  17. Adjusting to a new culture requires a good amount of re-examination of your own values and outlook. Try to do that as you live in the new culture.
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