Culture shock is something you will inevitably hear about when you decide to embark on a journey half way across the globe. I was told I’d have trouble adapting to the culture, the language, the customs, traditions, and the currency. I was convinced however, that the term “culture shock” was an exaggeration used to describe how maladapted individuals responded to normal changes you experience when living in another country. I considered myself a versatile and malleable individual who could handle anything thrown my way. Looking back, I realize this was my way of coping with the anxiety I felt from entering the unknown; which of course is 100% normal. The first week in Prague I was actually shown this graph:
I brushed it off as I was also taking in hundreds of other bits and pieces of information. But the wiser more experienced version of myself is now here to tell you that there is a high chance that you will experience culture shock. Plain and simple. If you are living in a country where you are a foreigner, culture shock is inevitable. Once the excitement of being in a new place and experiencing new things wears off, frustration, to some degree, will take over you.
Let me paint a picture for you:
Imagine you are midway throughout your semester and have just been reminded by your professor that your ten-page research paper is due in a week. Now I know what you’re thinking: you’re a responsible student who stays on top of your work and forgetting you have a paper due is not in your nature. But when you’re exploring a city you have limited time in day in and day out whilst traveling during the weekends, due dates are easy to forget. Luckily, European professors do not give homework for the most part but their easygoing character also means they won’t be constantly reminding you of when your big papers and projects are due. So now that you have some context of the situation you may find yourself in, imagine it’s also around the time where you begin to feel home sick. When holidays like Thanksgiving come up or a beloved one’s birthday, you will begin to miss home (I recommend disconnecting from social media as much as possible to counter-act this).
Now picture yourself in this hypothetical scenario, with these things lingering in your subconscious, and all of a sudden you find yourself unable to communicate with someone at a café. They don’t speak English and you don’t speak their language fluent enough for them to understand either; this can be really frustrating!
Halfway through your frustration you remind yourself that you’re a guest in someone’s country and this is to be expected thus allowing yourself to “brush it off.” On your way home (yes Prague became home) you are being stared at and laughed at. You tell yourself that it’s normal to stand out but you feel your blood start to boil a little. This is culture shock. When the excitement of being in a new place wears off you are faced with the fact that you are somewhere where you stand out all the time. You may begin to think everyone’s constantly staring at you and judging you and well, they probably are.
The most efficient way I’ve found to get over culture shock is to accept that you are a foreigner in another land. I find that it helps to think back to all the times you innocently laughed at someone who didn’t speak English, who was completely lost with no sense of direction, or who simply annoyed you because they were “tourists.” Accepting that you are a tourist in another country will make for a less frustrating realization of cultural differences. The faster you can accept this, the quicker this “shock” will pass on by. And trust me, it will pass. If you make an effort to get out of your comfort zone, nine out of ten times you will be rewarded. The reward is life long friendships, new perspectives, gratitude for the people in your life, and personal growth.
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman