What is Culture Shock?
Not everybody goes through a culture shock or through all of its phases. Also, the length of each phase is not predictable. It highly depends on former experiences, attitudes, self-confidence, knowledge, etc. It is possible that there is not any conflict at all, as well as there may be phases which are being experienced stronger or weaker than others. To know about the phenomenon of culture shock doesn't mean trying to avoid it: as mentioned above, it is a regular and important part of the inevitable process of adaptation.
Culture shock can happen at the place you are staying (but please be aware that most of our host families are well-experienced with foreign travellers and adjust to their needs) or – which is more typically the case – at the place where you are volunteering/doing an intership due to differences in the understanding of work practice.
To understand the phenomenon of culture shock entirely, it is important to understand the meaning of "culture“: Culture is a kind of orientation system which is defined and shared by a certain nation, society or group of people. It influences or controls the perception, way of thinking and values of the nation's/society's/group's members and therefore directs their behaviour, helping them to cope with their surroundings. The orientation system provides affiliation to a certain group or nation. This orientation system however differs from nation, society and group to another.
The Phases of Culture Shock
5. Some things in our new surroundings we might find more enjoyable than at home, others we still won't like. We will recognize realistic advantages and disadvantages of the new and our own culture and will feel satisfied and in balance.
Tips To Avoid Culture Shock
- Be patient, try to get to know other people
- Often try new and typical things of the other culture to overcome inhibitons (e.g. local food, clothes, etc.)
- Write a diary and note down positive and negative emotions, experiences and thoughts
- Learn and use the foreign language (even if you only speak a few words, it will be appreciated by locals and will give you a good feeling)
- Take regular breaks and time for reflection. To think thoroughly about your experiences and feelings, both negative and positive, might help to understand conflicts and avoid frustration.
- Pay close attention to the body language and behaviour of locals: a typical reason for disappointment is the lack of understanding of other people's behaviour or feeling of not being understood by locals
- Think positively (for instance: try to realise continually that the process of adaptation to the new culture is a common phenomenon everyone has to go through)
- Deliberately name and affirm your personal strengths; set realistic goals for your stay, also allow bad moods and frustrations
- Consciously appreciate the chances of your stay abroad: clearly point out the advantages for your career, your personal development, and how much it broadens your horizon
- Respect foreign traditions, even if you are not able to understand them entirely due to your different system of values (for instance related to the role of women in other cultures, the understanding and handling of sexuality, religion, etc.)
- During longer stays, it might help to keep intensive and regular contact to your friends, family and colleagues at home (by letters, emails, telephone calls, etc.). Sharing emotions and experiences with family and friends might certainly help to avoid overreactions, might strengthen your self-confidence and help reducing stress.
- Participate at local activities: you will meet new people, understand local traditions, immerse yourself with the local culture more quickly. If you have hobbies at home, also practise them at your new location with locals (e.g. play football with the locals)