Culture shock is a serious problem. You should ask yourself:
Could you handle dirty children asking you for money?
Or entire families searching for food in trash?
Or how women are treated in some countries?
If the answer is no you might suffer “Culture Shock” visiting the kinds of places where these things happen.
I will share with you what culture shock really means and how you can overcome it.
Let’s start from a definition of culture shock:
“A condition of confusion and anxiety affecting a person suddenly exposed to an alien culture.”
The 4 Stages of Culture Shock
I have read some explication of culture shock. They talk about four stages. A short description would be like this:
Stage 1: The Honeymoon
You are charmed by the differences. Everything is wonderful.
On short trips, this is the normal feeling. It’s like falling in love.
Stage 2: The Frustration
The initial euphoria disappears. You begin to believe that you are on another planet. Small things can make you angry. Everything is horrible.
It may happen on a long trip or sometimes when you come back to a place with which you fell in love.
Maybe the second time things are not as you remembered. It’s not the ideal place of your memories.
I have experienced both.
Stage 3: The Adjustment
You start to adapt to the new culture. It helps to be less judgmental, but it’s not easy.
You may see unfairness, inequality, and misery. Maybe you didn’t see it before. Did you?
Welcome to the real world.
Stage 4: The Acceptance
You finally accept the huge cultural differences.
That doesn’t mean you approve of it. You just take it as it is.
It takes time to arrive at this stage. Some people may never get there.
I have met people who that after living in a country for years and they are still resentful and frustrated.
Don’t be that guy.
I’m not a psychologist, so I will give you my personal point of view about how different people have experienced a cultural shock.
I have seen other kinds of reactions such as people who didn’t leave their hotels because they couldn’t handle it.
I mean from the airport to the hotel, and from the hotel to the airport. Not leaving the hotel for a week.
Another weird stage is when people make up fantasies to justify reality.
For example: “some people in India sleep on the street because they want to.” Seriously! I heard it!
I think these two examples are more about a negation stage. They don’t accept reality. They avoid it or deny it.
I have also seen people hating everything about the other culture.
They may have good reasons to dislike some aspects of the other culture.
However, when we are visiting another country we need to open our minds and be less judgmental.
You can be sure they may think you have a crazy culture. Who is right? We tend to think we are right.
How to prepare for a culture shock?
Before I went to India I prepared my mind for weeks.
Have you been there?
I had heard that some people didn’t want to leave the hotel. They couldn’t overcome the huge cultural differences.
Overcrowded train stations, trash everywhere, children harassing them for money, homeless lying in the middle of the street…
I honestly didn’t want to go but many people recommend me to visit India. Love it or have it. Nothing in the middle.
Let’s see some tips.
9 Tips To Overcome Culture Shock
After several years of traveling, I have come up with several tips about this toping. If you are worried about suffering culture shock follow the next steps.
1. Preparing Your Mind
Once I booked the ticket to India I started to watch some documentaries about its culture.
I mean, the dark side of India. I was conditioning my mind to the worst-case scenario.
Read travel forums and guidebooks to get to know their lifestyle.
This might discourage you. However, if you can’t handle a documentary you wouldn’t be able to handle the real experience.
2. Talk With Other Travelers About Culture Shock
It’s important to talk to people who have been there. They will tell you about their experience and how they dealt with it.
Hopefully, they will encourage you.
Learn what’s acceptable and what’s not in the new culture –do’s and don’ts.
Other travelers might also be able to recommend some areas where you would feel more comfortable. Areas where you can go and feel a bit like home.
3. Admit That Something Bothers You
Be honest with yourself. You don’t like XYZ. Fine. From here you can work on it.
Share it with your friends. It will help you.
The reality is that many things in this world suck. Life is not all sunshine and rainbows.
Didn’t you know that? What are you going to do?
Try to see the beauty in the world. There are plenty of wonderful things.
4. Accept The Difference
See life as it is, not as you would like it to be. There are many things you don’t like about other cultures.
But it’s not also true that there are things you don’t like about your own culture?
I have personally seen some hard injustice in some poor countries. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
Then again, we are just visitors. Don’t carry the whole world on your shoulders. It’s too heavy.
Treat it as a learning experience.
5. See The Positive Part
Even the worst culture in the world has something good. It’s an interesting exercise that you can apply to your own life.
Because, how often do you see only the negative part?
Remind yourself of why you’re traveling in the first place.
Train your mind to see the beauty in life. It will help you on your journey.
6. Don’t Try to Find a Logical Explanation
There are many things happening and we don’t know why. You will see extremely different ways to live.
You will probably not understand why they do what they do. Don’t try to find the logic.
I learned this lesson in India. Why do trains arrive seven hours late? How can they build a pipe crossing the middle of the street? How they live with so much trash around?
After a month I gave up trying to find a reason for all of that. There is none.
7. Take a Break
Moving from place to place can be tiring. You may need to take a short break during your trip.
For example, while I was traveling around India I became overwhelmed.
I searched for a place to stay for a while where I could relax.
It took me three buses and 14 hours to get there.
It was a nice and quiet coastal town –which is not easy to find in India. I stayed there for a week until I felt it was the right time to continue traveling.
8. Take Care of Yourself
This is something you should always do. Especially on a long trip.
Practice sports, maybe local sports, do exercise, eat well, and get a good rest.
I had to do this when I was traveling around Malaysia. I spent a week in Langkawi eating well and doing exercise to get back in a good shape.
It’s also a wonderful place –I can’t complain.
Good habits will make you feel good.
Take a look inside yourself. Why something bothers you?
Write it down.
Writing about your experience will help you to overcome any situation.
I started doing this in the Philippines, where I experienced cultural shock for the first time.
The second time was in India. I wrote about those experiences. I needed it.
It was the first time in my life that I had written any kind of diary. So, it doesn’t matter if you have never done it before. It’s just a habit. You can do it.
You don’t need to write everything. Focus on the important stuff. Sometimes you will have to force yourself to do it. Write it down! Your future “you” will appreciate it.
Travel and enjoy life. There may be some ups and downs, but it’s worth it!
Have you ever experienced culture shock?
Which tip would be the most useful for you?