Adjusting to the Surprising Nature of Culture Shock

Culture shock can strike anyone at any time and is most often a surprise. The greatest tool in battling culture shock is the awareness that that is what’s going on. Culture shock is insidious and strikes without warning. The root cause of culture shock is a loss of history that can feel like a loss of self. A lot of people do not realize how much of their sense of self is connected to small, seemingly insignificant things and experiences. Routines make up the larger part of the human experience, and an inability to carry out familiar routines creates a sense of loss. The lack of the familiar creates a loss of equilibrium and destabilizes the sense of self.

There is a fine line between making bold changes and losing one’s self altogether. How and when change happens should be a choice, not a mandate by some random third party or declared cultural appropriateness that seemingly has no rhyme or reason. The latter is, sadly, more often than not the agent for change when living abroad. No matter how much preparation is done beforehand to become familiar with a culture, nothing can fully prepare one for the experience of living in a foreign country. The shock of that hits everyone differently and at different strengths.

There is no one-size-fits all guide for how much to change. There is not one perfect answer for how much of the new culture one should embrace. These are personal and individual choices. Most of the writing on culture shock tends to promote the idea that there is a way to “beat” it. Sadly, there is not. There is, however, a way to survive it. The first step is to acknowledge that you are experiencing culture shock. The second step is to decide if this is something you can manage on your own or if you need help adjusting. For most people, help adjusting makes all the difference in their ability to be happy and thrive in their new country.

Posted on 07 Jun 2015 04:43

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