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5 Ways to Help You Mentally Cope with Culture Shock and Moving Overseas

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Culture Shock, its a term we hear around us on a regular basis, but many of us don’t really give it much thought. It’s just a part of moving, right?  Well- yes and no. It is certainly a feeling shared by the majority of people who move to a new city, and especially to those who move to an entirely different country. However, people often underestimate how much of an effect culture shock can have on a person, and it is important when putting all your ducks in a row, and meticulously planning your move overseas, that you take a moment to truly understand what emotions you will face when moving to a new environment, and prepare yourself to have as much support as possible so that you can thrive in your new environment and bounce back from culture shock as quickly as possible. We have compiled a list of 5 ways to help make your voyage overseas a little less emotionally stressful.

What is Culture Shock, exactly?

Culture Shock is defined as, “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” Although this does happen to people in varying degrees (since we all have different emotional and mental backgrounds, needs, wants, and experiences), it is safe to say that the vast majority of people who move out to another country experience culture shock to a level they may describe as “profound”.  The first step is understanding culture shock,  and recognizing it for what it is and how it may potentially affect you.

The Stages of Culture Shock:

For the most part, people undergo multiple stages of culture shock that can be akin to the stages of grief or other emotionally difficult experiences. The difficult thing about culture shock is that people often report that it comes in two distinct waves. The elation of the “honeymoon”phase, the crisis, and a “superficial” adjustment period which gives way to the real culture shock. This process has no real time limit- its all dependant on the person experiencing it.

  • Excitement/ Honeymoon phase
    Initial elation and excitement
  • Initial Crisis/ Detachment
    Irritation, feelings of isolation and loneliness, inability to fit in with locals, and generalized dislike/ aversion to anything that is different from home
  • Superficial Adjustment Period
    – Initial attempt to become part of the culture. Maybe trying to meet one or two new people, trying new foods but still feeling very detached and isolated
  • “True” Culture Shock
    Regression, intentional isolation, depression and frustration. Feelings of hopelessness, confusion, can include extreme patriotism or irrational dislike for anything and everything non-american.
  • Secondary Adjustment/ Adaptation Period
    Make an earnest effort to meet new people, try new things and accept the culture for what it is and try to be just as involved if you were at home.

Coping with Culture Shock

As difficult as it is, it will pass! Here are some resources that may help you along the way.

1.Be Aware of Culture Shock

One of the most important ways to deal with culture shock is to recognize the symptoms and to be prepared to handle these irrational feelings from a logical standpoint. Much like anxiety attacks, when we can consciously recognize and objectify certain feelings, they become much less overwhelming. Know yourself, be honest with yourself about fears and concerns, and do as much research as you can so that you aren’t taken by surprise by any emotions!

2.)  Join a Social Group

Chances are, you’re not the only person from your country moving to a new place. The internet has allowed us all to be more connected than ever- utilize that to your advantage! Whether you’re a young teen reaching out on FB, or a mature adult who would be more interested in say, joining a gym, there are people out there, people who are going through the same emotional struggle. Find those people! They will integral to your emotional well being- and vice versa.

3.) Write Down Specific Time for Speaking with Family/Friends

It seems silly, but science has proven again and again that the physical act of writing something down and visualizing it, helps to store in deeper in our memory file. Plus, the visual reminder that family is there, within reach, waiting for your call can offer emotional support in ways you wouldn’t have imagined. And stick to those times- as much as it may be painful to miss relatives and friends, its important to keep in contact, and handle those feelings instead of internalizing them.

4.) Become a Tourist

No seriously- make it a point to get out of your new dwelling every day and explore a little bit of your surroundings. Regardless if its finding a hidden gem of a coffee shop, or simply seeing architecture you haven’t, there are things to see, and familiarizing yourself with your surroundings will make the adjustment period much faster. Plus, going out and about will help you to learn the language, and possibly make new friends, both of which will help you overcome Culture Shock

5.)  Befriend a Local

Probably the absolute most important way to begin overcoming culture shock. Making a close connection with at least one person who is from the local culture opens so many doors for you: you can learn the language faster and learn what is and isnt socially appropriate. You can learn about the best places to eat, the best places to enjoy a little of your home culture, the places to find the activities that youre interested in, and it will open the door to understanding the culture to which you are trying to adapt.

Culture Shock is a real affliction that effects the vast majority of people who travel abroad. It isnt to be taken lightly, but can be shortened and avoided as long as you prepare yourself and plan for possible complications.


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