It’s something everyone warns you about when you go to another country – but it’s often hard to truly understand how culture shock feels until you experience it first-hand. Sometimes it can be a slight discomfort, other times it can be completely unnerving.
In France people greet each other with “faire la bise.” In Korea, a bowl of white rice is compulsory with every meal. In the UK, tea is almost a sacred ritual.
If you grew up in more than one culture or country, understanding aspects of different cultures may come more easily. But even if you didn’t, understanding and moving past culture shock is completely doable. If you look hard enough, you’ll find countless ways and dozens of blogs that tell you how to deal with culture shock. Here are just three of them:
Make a local friend from your “abroad” country.
A couple of months into my year abroad, I became frustrated at how slowly my French was improving. On my school’s Facebook page, I wrote a post asking if anybody was willing to do a “language exchange” with me and I received a large handful of replies from local students who wanted to improve their English and in turn, help me with my French. The meetings started out focusing on language, but quickly turned into frank and transparent discussions about the differences between countries and our individual perspectives on aspects of culture and identity.
Take advantage of resources before you leave.
There’s a countless number of expats in hundreds of countries who make blogs and videos for the very purpose of recanting all their culture-shock moments. A quick Google search will give you dozens of really valuable resources that you can look at to prepare yourself for unusual aspects of your “abroad” country before you leave. YouTube is also an excellent resource: some examples are eatyourkimchi for Seoul, damonandjoe for Paris.
Think of aspects of your own country that others might find “shocking.”
You’d be surprised how many things you find completely normal that seem bizarre to others. It’s a lot easier to be understanding towards another culture’s unusualities when you recognize that your culture could be potentially just as unusual to somebody else.
Culture shock has the potential to be very difficult for anybody. But rather than dwell on it, or limit yourself to a safe bubble where you’ll be safe from its grasp, it’s far easier to prepare for it in advance, take it with a sense of humour, and learn to move past it with an original perspective on your new country. Your time abroad is a lot shorter than you’d expect – it frankly isn’t worth it to waste a large portion of your time on something as trivial as “being shocked about a culture.”
– Yeji Lee, University of Toronto, Sciences Po
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