Guest post by @tikitravel
Before we can understand and deal with culture shock, perhaps we should define it. Most of us have only a vague idea or understanding of what it is and certainly most of us have never attached any particular significance to the occurrence – it is just considered a mild inconvenience for travelers. This can be a huge misconception however, as there have been really severe instances of culture shock which can be life changing for one suffering from this malady.
What It Is…
In general, culture shock occurs when a person is suddenly thrust into a society or culture totally foreign and different to his own. All the cues to social behavior are gone, all the accepted cultural mores have disappeared only to be replaced by completely foreign and distressing ones about which we have no understanding at all. All the ‘props’ which hold our culture and behaviors in place are suddenly missing – it can be akin to being tossed into a raging current without a life jacket.
How We Can Deal With It In A Positive Way…
In order to survive it, we struggle against the tide for a bit but finally settle down into acceptance of the changes and go with the flow – in so doing, we adjust to the changes and will even come to appreciate the differences in time – except in those rare instances mentioned above where one may never be whole again.
Culture shock might be mild, medium, or severe and ones reaction to it will of course depend on the location, the amount of prior preparation and the timing. As an example, if you were planning a stay of several years in another country to an area where unknown people groups are thought to reside, you would doubtless spend years in preparation, learning as much as possible about the area and strengthening your resolve to be able to accept a totally foreign way of life. Anything you can do beforehand to prepare yourself to be able to accept the unexpected will give you just a bit more self confidence and security and make the transition easier.
Few of us ever go to such lengths to live and work among isolated people groups, but all of us have at one time or another gone into places where their customs are completely different to ours, their diet seems strange, their family groups different, their mode of dress strange and their religion seems harsh and difficult to understand. These differences make for a mild culture shock, usually easy to deal with and recover from with a bit of effort.
Positive or Negative Reactions?
Whether you react to culture shock in a positive or negative way is mostly determined by how prepared you were for the event. It’s just common sense to try to learn everything you can before visiting a foreign country – and this should include some common phrases you might need to know as well as a dictionary. The more you understand about your host country before you get there, the simpler your transition will be. Several tips to help you ease into the cultural scene of your host country are…
- Try to establish a friendship and cultivate social interaction with the natives. They will know where to find the best food at the best prices, and will show you which places to avoid.
- Pay attention to habits, dress and mannerisms of the natives. If you can in all good conscious adopt some of these habits, do so. If not, try to avoid situations where you will be conspicuous.
- Learn the language. Please note I didn’t say ‘try to learn the language‘, I said ‘learn the language’. This is perhaps the most important factor in easing your fears and making you comfortable in your new environment. Certainly you won’t learn it overnight, but the more you study and try to use it, the more comfortable you will become with it.
- Learn local history. Your hosts will appreciate that you are interested in what makes them who they are.
Whether returning home from an overseas work assignment or an Ex-Pat moving back to your native country, it is likely you will again suffer a bit of angst over what may have changed back home in your absence. This will pass as you rekindle old friendships and make new friends. But whether you know it or not, you will have changed so expect a bit of good natured ribbing from your family and friends.
The greatest thing about foreign travel is the opportunity to grow – grow in knowledge, grow in understanding, and hopefully grow in humanity. Consider yourself lucky to have had the opportunity.
If you’re interested in becoming a contributor or guest blogging for A Pair of Panties & Boxers, please feel free to contact me.
Kimberly Juchnowski is a 27 year old woman who is passionate about travel. She never hesitates to just grab her backpack and go explore a new Country. She shares her knowledge about travel on her site, Tikikiki.com. With her site focused on Southeast Asia you will find articles on her site like; what Thai girls are really about, or how to embrace a new culture by taking the time to prepare for your visit to Thailand by taking some time to learn Thai.