This is part two of my four part series on the cycle of cross cultural adjustment. Make sure to catch up on part one HERE! Today’s post is about culture shock.
It sucks. One moment you feel on top of the world, accomplished, and settled in to your new life in a new culture. But, with the snap of a finger all of this changes. Suddenly, life isn’t so rosy or cheerful. Initially, discovering new foods in the grocery store was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Now, you wish your comfort foods from your culture were in stock. And why do they close so early? Before, cultural differences were fascinating and a chance to learn something new. Now, they’re f@%#ing annoying.
The change may happen overnight but most likely it will be subtle. You will slowly slide from your honeymoon high into the dark, dreary, and potentially angry days of culture shock. In this stage, perseverance and perspective are needed. Think like Dory and “just keep swimming”! Take a moment and acknowledge that there will always be differences between your culture and the one you find yourself living in. My advice – adjust your expectations. Shift your focus from that of being a tourist to that of being a community member. After all, you live here now! Isolation is an easy band-aid during the culture shock stage. Resist it though! Think about what you can give to your new community. When you engage as a community member you’ll start to make friends and better understand your surroundings.
The first time I experienced culture shock was in Sweden. After spending a few months exploring my new town I had checked off everything on my tourist to-do list. I found it was difficult to fill my spare time and because of that I was bored. Making friends with Swedes can be tough. Generally, they’re more reserved than Americans and they need more time to become friends. I struggled with this because one of my goals when I chose to study abroad was to make in-country friends. I did not think making friends in their culture would be different than mine. I started to feel frustrated and disappointed in myself, like I was doing something wrong. In reality, my Swedish flatmates needed a little more time than me to warm up. But, in the middle of my culture shock I did not know things would turn around.
The culture shock stage is simply that – a stage. It will pass. One day you will wake up and see your new home through a different perspective. I’ll talk about that in my next post – Part 3: Adjustment.
Have you experienced culture shock? Have you ever suddenly felt annoyed with an entire culture? How did you deal with it?