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Dealing with Culture Shock

Updated on April 17, 2014

Having grown up moving around overseas and spending most of my life surrounded by foreign cultures, I have developed strategies for dealing with unfamiliar situations and norms. Here are my top tips:

Temple Street, Singapore
Temple Street, Singapore | Source

1. Remember that culture shock happens to everyone! Just because you have spent three months in Cambodia does not necessarily mean you won’t have culture shock when you get to Norway. Cultures vary widely and sometimes it’s a place we expect to be more like our own that can feel even more foreign because the differences surprise us. You’re not alone or crazy for feeling out of place.

2. Find little ways to exercise control. One thing that people don’t always anticipate is that culture shock can make you feel like you have no control over a situation. Finding ways to exercise control can help. Little things like moving the furniture around, asking for substitutions at a restaurant, or creating your own tour schedule can help. It sounds weird, but it works for me!

3. Bring pictures of loved ones and other items to display. Being able to look up and see a familiar face can pull you right out of the doldrums! Culture shock can make you feel isolated, so having reminders around that there are people in the world who love you can really help. Besides photos, having other objects from home visible in an unfamiliar place can be reassuring.

4. Get out! It’s easy to want to stay cooped up because it’s more comfortable in your house/apartment/hotel than out in the scary world of strangers, but if you don’t get out there and interact, your culture shock could become depression. It’s easier in the long run to face the differences and figure out how to deal with them—or better yet, how to love them!

Byodo-In Temple, Kahaluu, Oahu, HI
Byodo-In Temple, Kahaluu, Oahu, HI | Source

5. Look on the bright side! Can’t find Frosted Flakes at the grocery store? Don’t know how to order a hamburger at the restaurant? That can be hard when you crave the familiar, but think of all the cool things you’ve tried because you can’t find those things. Or how about all the funny things that happened while you were trying to communicate with people? Those are great stories you can share for a lifetime!

6. Find people like you, but don’t get attached at the hip. Sometimes, it can be such a wonderful relief to find someone from back home who gets what you are going through. It’s great to find someone who is more knowledgeable about the locale and pump them for information. Just remember that if you isolate yourself with others from back home, you might as well just be back home. (See #4!) Instead, take your new friends out for an adventure!

7. Ask questions! If you don’t understand how something is done or what the social norm is in a given situation, ASK! It’s always better to deal with the slight embarrassment of asking than the possible affront that could result from acting out of ignorance. People will most likely know you are foreign anyway, so you might as well accept that and then show you are interested in their culture and how to behave properly by asking questions. They will appreciate it!

8. Laugh at yourself! If you can’t have a sense of humor about your gaffes it will be a difficult process to get used to your new place! It’s OK to find the humor in how the people in the new place operate as well, just don’t let yourself become jaded. After all, in their culture, you are the weirdo!

9. Tell the people at home about your experiences. No matter how far away you are, you can always contact the people at home—even if it’s just a letter. Sharing your experiences will help them understand what you are going through while also helping you process all the new information that is inundating your psyche.

10. Remember that culture shock will pass. The key to getting through those lonely times when everything seems intimidating and strange is to remember that the “foreign-ness” will go away at some point. Culture shock is temporary!

Reverse Culture Shock


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    • amazingchild profile image

      amazingchild 6 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Good point, Mummi! That is definitely an issue for many who spend significant amounts of time overseas. Check back here and I'll post a link when I get something written on that.

    • profile image

      Mummi 6 years ago

      Great insight! Now, how about writing about reverse culture shock -- coming "home" from another culture.