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The well-known culture shock: who hasn’t had it? I’m sure I had it when I visited Asia for the very first time in the spring of 2018. Every traveller has it at some point and I have a few tips to minimize the impact! I’ll explain the culture shock first before heading into the tips on how to deal with different cultures.
The culture shock
I briefly mentioned this in my opening paragraph but I’ll explain this phenomena if you haven’t heard of it before or don’t know the meaning of this specifically. Whenever you start to travel a bit more to continents and countries outside of your own continent, the chances are pretty high that you’ll be in a completely different culture. I’m talking about continents as well, because I feel like that there isn’t such a shock in Europe. I’m Dutch and if I travel to France, Spain or Italy: I’m not having a shock because the European way of living is pretty much the same. There are a few things that need adjustment, for example the late diners in Spain and the siesta in the afternoon. However, that’s nowhere near a culture shock.
So what is it? I feel like you’ll experience this if you travel to a place with another religion or just a totally different way of living. I travelled to Asia in the spring of 2018, and if you’ve read my other blog posts too: you’ll know this was Singapore and Indonesia. However, to be completely fair: these places have been influenced by tourism quite a bit which means that the shock isn’t as bad in these places compared to other places where the local culture and religion are more preserved compared to Bali (for example).
Culture shock is mostly described as the feeling you get after leaving your beloved and familiar home to visit or live in another social environment or between different cultures. It’s no guarantee that an open-minded person will not experience the culture shock! There are about four stages.
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- All is great – the Honeymoon phase
When first visiting a country: everything is great. You love meeting new people, exploring the surroundings, tasting new food and doing new things. This can least days, weeks or even months!
- Not so great – the frustration phase
In this phase you’ll start noticing (small) differences compared to your own culture. These are usually not the positive changes. You start to dislike certain people or the way people behave, the food isn’t as good as it was when you first arrived and the surroundings aren’t as great as you first thought they were.
- Make a decision – the negotiation phase
It’s so easy to dwell on in negative thoughts but this is the phase when you need to decide which way you want to go. Are you going to look past these differences and make the most of your journey or are these differences too big to forget?
- All is great again! – the acceptance phase
If you succeeded the third phase: this is the phase where you started to accept the differences and start to enjoy the journey. This is the phase where you’ll realize that no culture is the same, or better than another and you’ll see the positive differences too!
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Now we’re all familiar with the term “culture shock” and all the phases: how can you prepare for it and possibly even avoid it? I have a few tips for you!
Preparation is key. You need to start preparing at home and not when you have arrived at the destination. My biggest suggestion is to start reading information about the local culture and their way of living. Learn as much as you can: the bad, the good and the simple things like the language, what side of the road people drive and the time difference.
Be as open minded as you can and be willing to learn new things. If you keep holding on to the culture of your home and their ways of living: you’re never going to get used to the new culture. Let go of your familiar way of living and be open to start living a different way! Adjust to your surroundings.
One of the most important things is to maintain your sense of humour and being able to laugh about silly things and to not take it all too seriously. Some situations might be a bit weird and it’s so much easier to put things in perspective if you have a sense of humour.
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Use your sense of humour but respect and tolerate the culture and everything that comes with it. It can be complete nonsense to you, but always keep in mind that it can be an important thing to the local community. Respect is the most important thing when it comes to dealing with different cultures. You may not mean it offensive, but it can definitely be interpretated as offensive.
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If you’re sensitive to being homesick: bring familiar touches of home with you like a post card or pictures with friends and family. It may help you to realize that home will always be there for you and it’s still going to be there when you return home. To stay in contact with home via post cards, skype, Whatsapp, Facetime or whatever you may use is a great way to get over being home sick! This will also help reducing the chances of reversed culture shock: that’s the shock when you arrive home after being around different cultures for so long.
And last but not least: build new friendships in the first weeks of your journey or new home! Friendships are the best way to get over your homesickness and they can help getting a new perspective on the different cultures. It also helps to know that you’re not alone.
The more you’ll travel and the more you’ll discover new places: the less of a culture shock you will experience. These tips may not prevent the culture shock but it can minimize the impact on your trip! It makes it much easier to learn about different cultures and it will become so much more fun to learn about it!
Have you ever had a culture shock? Where did you get it and what did you do to get rid of it? I’d love to hear your story!