Culture Shock and How to Cope with It Abroad
I have been extremely fortunate to be able to travel the world with my family, school, and friends. I had heard of culture shock in books and blog posts, but I did not truly experience this phenomenon until I studied abroad in Rome for a semester. At first, I thought culture shock was an exaggerated warning that my home and host schools pounded into my head. It wasn’t until I spent my first week abroad – by myself, immersed in a new place, with new people and a different language – that I started to understand what culture shock really was. Here is my complete definition of culture shock, and my tips on how to cope with it while being abroad.
What is culture shock?
Culture shock is the feeling of being lost in an unfamiliar place, culture, and way of life. Culture shock can be broken down into four stages:
- The Honeymoon Stage: this stage includes the initial excitement of being abroad with the new culture, sounds and sights. This stage also includes involvement in the culture but in a superficial way, similar to a tourist.
- The Irritable Stage: this stage is when the culture shock hits, and now you focus on the differences between the host culture and your home culture rather than their similarities. This will, most likely, make you feel irritable, frustrated, and homesick. You develop prejudices and stereotypes about the host country, its culture, and its people.
- The Adjustment Stage: slowly you will adjust to the new culture and its ways, making you feel less helpless and less isolated. You start to re-develop a sense of interest and humor and start to feel more in control of your ability to cope with your surroundings.
- The Acceptance Stage: finally, you are feeling very comfortable in your new setting, and have immersed yourself in the new culture, language and people. You are starting to make your host country feel more like home, and are able to fully be yourself.
How do I cope with it abroad?
My biggest tip is just hang in there! Culture shock might seem scary, but honestly, it is just the process of being acclimated to a new culture and a different place. Everyone gets through it, and you will too. So be flexible, give yourself a break, be patient, and have a good sense of humor. Ride the wave of culture shock into a deep, authentic acceptance of a culture that not many have the privilege of experiencing. It will also give you a unique perspective and connection to those who have also faced culture shock like immigrants, foreign exchange students, and ex-patriots. Enjoy your travels and your culture shock!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jolie Blair is a rising senior at Emory University from Sun Valley, Idaho. She is double majoring in Theater Studies and Public Health and has a passion for the arts, writing, and traveling. She studied abroad for the 2016 fall semester in Rome, Italy and had an experience of a lifetime, which she loves to share with those who want to listen (and even those who don’t like her 140lb Great Dane!).