Recognizing Culture Shock

So let me paint the picture for you, you are moving to a different country in search of work, education or just new experiences altogether. You are so excited to go you could wet your pants. You arrive and for a while everything is just dandy, but then you start to feel sad, things that were once a novelty to you are now a thing of annoyance and you just feel like giving it all up. Welcome my friend, to culture shock.

This is something that grips most, if not all, long-term travelers in some form or another and there are a multitude of articles telling you about how to deal with culture shock, or how to survive reverse culture shock. 

What I want to look at is how you can recognize it.

I think that by recognizing the symptoms you can better prepare yourself for when it does hit, and the better prepared you are the smoother sailing your culture shock will be.

So let’s take a look at some of the symptoms.

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Social

Culture shock can have major influences on how you interact socially, so recognizing changes here will be a good indicator to whether or not you are experiencing culture shock.

People experiencing culture shock often report an unshakeable feeling of loneliness, even when they are around others. If you notice a change in yourself this way then it’s probably down to culture shock.

In a desperate attempt to claw back feelings of home, often individuals can over-identify with their native country/culture. This can manifest itself into being rude or overly patriotic, this is just your mind trying to hold on to something familiar, and it holds on to it with a vice-like grip.

So if you find yourself parading the streets wrapped in the flag of your home country singing your home country’s national anthem, check yourself.

Problems with fitting in can often arise, people feel like they just don’t belong or that nobody understands them, relating to others can be difficult. Remind yourself that this is natural, you’re not going to jump off a plane into Taiwan and adapt to Taiwan’s culture in a heartbeat. These things take time.

Others become socially withdrawn, completely removing themselves from any social scenes and hiding away in their apartment. If you suddenly find yourself locked in your room in the dark whilst everybody else is out having fun, you may want to address this with culture shock in mind.

Physical

It will not only be the social side of your life you shall notice has changed, but also the physical side too. Pay close attention to any changes that you notice in your body that are different from when you lived in your native country.

One of the main bodily changes is sleep, sometimes people sleep too much and are always tired, others don’t sleep enough, and experience forms of insomnia.

Another thing to watch is your health, if you notice that you are falling ill often then this may be due to culture shock. The stress that culture shock has on the body releases extra cortisone in the brain which can cause the body to become ill in many different ways. Dealing with sickness abroad can cause more stress.

Psychological/Emotional

Of course, one of the biggest areas that culture shock can affect is your psychological and emotional state.

Let’s not forget that moving to a new country with a new culture can be a hard thing to adjust to. Suddenly all of the routines and comforts that you had previously have now been removed and replaced with a new set of routines and ways of living.

You can go through a state of loving a situation and then hating a situation all in one day causing big mood swings. A lot of people completely clam up and don’t talk about it with anybody.

You may suddenly find that all of those small insignificant problems that used to annoy you are suddenly the biggest thing to deal with in your life, making you very irritable.

You may find that you have become over cautious with everything and have a feeling of insecurity. If these symptoms occur, and are not how you normally act, then you are more than likely going through culture shock.

Now the first step to tackling culture shock is actually just recognizing that you are going through it. Be mindful that the symptoms you are experiencing are a product of this and not just how you are now as a person.

The next step would be to find somebody to talk to about it, whether it is your friend, co-worker, boss, neighbor, local fruit seller you have only seen once or even the scruffy dog down the street you are sure has rabies; get it off your chest and talk about it, trust me, you will feel a whole lot better.

I guess the purpose of this entry is not how to deal with culture shock once it hits, but more about preparing yourself by reading the signs in anticipation for when it does hit, by doing that you can greatly reduce the impact of culture shock.

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