Culture Shock

Have you ever considered living in another country?

Whether its teaching English abroad for a year or permanently moving back to live with family or retiring somewhere warmer than Canada, moving to another country can pose some difficulties.

Any move can be stressful, and moving to another country with a different culture can be even more so.

Culture shock is the sense of unease and dislocation associated with living in another culture.

It happens to many people who temporarily or permanently live in a culture that they do not identify as their “home” culture.

Some signs that a person may be experiencing culture shock include: increased desire to sleep, changes in appetite (you may want to eat more or less), changes in weight, changes in mood (you may feel more frustrated, angry or irritable than normal), decreased ability to concentrate and spending more time alone than usual. People will often develop negative feelings toward the new culture and people in their new country for a time.

Culture shock is not permanent and tends to flow through some common phases.

The first phase is the honeymoon period. At this point, everything new is exciting and positive. You can expect these feelings to last for a few months after you have moved to your new country.

The second phase is the frustration stage. At this point, the novelty and excitement of living in your new country has worn off. You notice the differences between the culture you are living in and what you are used to. The stress of constantly having to deal with new or different experiences can become overwhelming and you miss certain parts of living at “home”. This stage commonly happens by your sixth month of living in a new country.

The third phase is the adjustment stage. At this point, you’ve started to adapt to living in your new country and you feel like less of an outsider. Your outlook on the things that irritated you before about the culture or people have become less frustrating. Your mood lifts and you feel less burdened.

The fourth and final phase is the acceptance stage. At this point, you have mostly adjusted to your new country’s culture and people. You can expect this to occur by 1 year after your initial move. In fact, for some people, if they were to move back to their “home” country at this point, they may experience “reverse culture shock” where they feel the same symptoms at home that they did when they first moved away.

Culture shock is not commonly seen in travellers as it takes longer to develop than common travel timelines.

Some coping strategies to help reduce culture shock include learning the rules of living in your new country and getting involved in some aspect of the new culture. Eating well, exercising and taking time to sleep are always important for mental health and become especially important for those experiencing culture shock. Another tip is to be a tourist in your host country and spend time learning the history and language. Also, maintain contact with family and friends at home, but avoid idealizing life at home as this can lead to more negative feeling about the country you are living in.

One of the most important aspects of dealing with culture shock is just being aware that it exists and that it may happen to you. Culture shock is a unique experience and one person’s experience may be completely different from their friends or family members.

So with this in mind, pack your bags, prepare your mind and get ready for an amazing experience!