How to Deal with Culture Shock & Reverse Culture Shock
I have traveled to 16 countries so far and am very excited to hopefully add more to my list soon. I’m from Canada and have also studied in Chile for five months and lived in Mexico for 3 years. This post is going to cover what culture shock is, what reverse culture shock is and some ways you can deal with them. I am not a doctor and this article was written based on research and my own personal experiences. If you are having a very difficult time with culture shock or reverse culture shock and need help, please book an appointment with a counselor or therapist.
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What is Culture Shock?
Culture shock refers to disorientation, overwhelm, and uncertainty among other feelings that are caused by visiting a place with a culture different than ones’ own. Those who experience culture shock often have varying symptoms or degrees of symptoms.
What is Reverse Culture Shock?
Reverse culture shock refers to the feelings and experiences one has upon returning home. Returning home from studying, living, working, or just visiting somewhere abroad can be emotional. You may feel disconnected from your home culture after you have adapted to living in a foreign culture. Or, you may just feel like you’ve changed a lot but coming back to a place and seeing it’s ‘just as you left it’ can give you a different kind of disorientating feeling. Personally, I have always felt reverse culture shock much more acutely than initial culture shock.
Common Symptoms of Culture Shock & Reverse Culture Shock
This list of symptoms is not complete as each person’s experience with both culture shock and reverse culture shock is different.
- Feeling misunderstood
The Five Stages of Culture Shock
Researchers studying culture shock have found that there are five significant stages to the experience.
1. Honeymoon Stage
The honeymoon stage is actually a state of joy, excitement, and sometimes even euphoria upon arriving in a new place. Everything around you seems fascinating and you are in good spirits, even when things may not go according to plan.
2. Negotiation Stage
This is when the more unpleasant symptoms of culture shock kick in, such as those described above. Things that are different in the country or place you’re in may start to bother or frustrate you. You might start feeling homesick, anxious, irritable, or misunderstood. You may still be adjusting to the language and getting frustrated with your speaking or comprehension abilities.
3. Adjustment Stage
In the adjustment stage, you can feel things starting to improve. You have a routine that you’re settling into, your grasp of the local language is improving and you can handle difficulties with a clearer mind.
4. Adaptation Stage
This is sometimes also called the Bicultural stage. You have friends and community in your new country and you don’t feel disconnected. Your grasp of the language is quite good and you feel a sense of belonging. It’s almost like you have a ‘home away from home’ or you may even be starting to think of the word ‘home’ differently.
5. Re-entry or Reverse Culture Shock
Of course, if and when you eventually return to your home country, you may experience reverse culture shock. I think one of the worst parts of reverse culture shock, especially if you’ve lived abroad for a long time, is finding out that you can’t just pick up where you left off with all your old friends. Maybe with some of them, you can, but most likely, not all of them. Everyone seems to have kind of ‘moved on’ without you. Familiar yet unpleasant feelings of isolation, disorientation, and even perhaps a new kind of ‘reverse-homesickness’ may start to set in.
How to Manage Culture Shock & Reverse Culture Shock
Talk to a Therapist if You Need To
Culture shock can be really overwhelming especially if it’s your first experience with it. These days you can often talk to therapists online, so you may be able to reach a therapist in your home country who speaks the same language as you to help you adjust to your new settings. There is no shame in talking to a therapist when you need help. Personally, I have been seeing therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists, for an anxiety disorder, since I was 10 years old. There really is no shame in getting help, and if you’re really struggling it’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself.
I’ve always found that getting all my mixed-up emotions and feelings down on paper really helps me to process things. No matter what I’m feeling, I know that putting pen to paper can at least help me become more self-aware and sort through difficulties.
Read About Other People’s Experiences with Culture Shock
Reading about other people’s experiences with culture shock can help you feel less alone. Loneliness is one of the biggest problems that comes with culture shock since you may not have met many new friends yet. Read what other people have to say and how they’ve managed. It’s as simple as a Google search.
Participate in Cultural Events from Your Home Country or the Place You’re Missing
If you’re in a new and unfamiliar place, try to find a cultural event from your home country to attend. It’s likely that there are other ex-pats in your new location that are also from your country. Try to meet up with them, participate in your own cultural celebrations and cook and eat familiar foods with them. It will help you find people in a similar situation to you and may help you make friends as well.
Once you’ve returned home, you can find cultural events or language exchange groups to help you connect to the place you left. Maybe you really miss it there or you don’t want to let your new language skills go to waste. Meet up with people from the country you were just in and connect with them. You may even be able to show some of them around your home city a bit!
Connect with Other Travelers and Expats Online and In-Person
Culture shock and reverse culture shock are things that so many people experience. Usually, these people are travelers or ex-pats. There are tons of ways you can meet up with other travelers and ex-pats online and in person. My best advice is to join Facebook Groups like Girls Love Travel and Ladies for Sustainable Travel (I created this one). You can also search on Facebook for ‘Expats in….’ or ‘Travelers in….’ to find people in your new country. Oftentimes these groups host meetups where you can connect in person too. Connecting with other travelers and ex-pats will help you feel less alone in your experiences and you may make some lifelong friends along the way.
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