It is VERY REAL. There are many who travel and experience it at some point during their stay in a foreign land. Today, as titled, I will be discussing the experience of culture shock. For those who travel far away for the first time, something like culture shock can strike suddenly and without warning. It may not even be identified, only misunderstood. It has happened to me on two separate ventures so far. In fact it’s happening right now.
What is culture shock?
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture shock as a sense of confusion and uncertainty, sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.
This pretty much explains my current situation. When I travel, I rarely take the proper amount time to mentally wrap my head around the situation in order to fully prepare for the unknown ahead. Not the best idea, and I encourage you to undergo some sort of pre-adaptation program beforehand. It will significantly help with your traveling experience, mindset and ableness to be engrossed in everyday life. Culture shock can ruin the entire trip if you let it.
How to tell if you’re experiencing it
When traveling to a new country where everything is unfamiliar the initial shock can trigger a whirlwind of feelings, both positive and negative. The way of life you always knew has changed dramatically, from the structure of society to food and customs. If you’re traveling to a place in which your physical appearance is not common, prepare yourself for what I like to call “the unicorn effect“. This term is what I use to explain a situation in which you are constantly stared at, touched without consent and even avoided or discriminated against due to the rarity of your outward appearance in the foreign land. I suppose it could be a form of culture shock, perhaps the other way around. Though the unicorn effect is not always the case when traveling, it CAN make getting comfortable a lot more challenging.
The language, to me, is a whole other important aspect to analyze. If you know the language it helps significantly. I am very aware that there are plenty of people who’ve traveled from country to country without ever learning the languages of the places they’ve ventured. A phrase book and dictionary is often enough for many, especially if just passing through. But if you are on an extended stay or living abroad, having a bit more knowledge is necessary. Getting through everyday activities alone are almost impossible when you lack communication. During my first trip to a foreign country I was literally lost in translation. It made me feel even more alone. More than 98% of the people I attempted to interacted with or was surrounded by could not speak English efficiently enough to hold a real conversation. Living a long period of time where you don’t know the language of the land is agonizing. It’s even more of a struggle when no one speaks your native tongue. I was pretty much isolated from society and believe me, it can drive you insane.
I found myself getting homesick for the ways of life I knew so well–a way of life that “makes sense” to me. Traveling may be exciting, but you might also suddenly find yourself immersed in loneliness, especially if you travel alone or are the only individual in your party with your cultural mindset. When you get off the plane, you can’t wait to explore. Just a few days later you could find yourself locked away in your room for a while, not able to cope with the shock and lack of connections. This was also the case for me in both instances, and it didn’t help that those around me couldn’t even begin to understand what I was feeling to assist. In the past, I have also been accused of having a “Proud American Mentality” when it was really culture shock. This only made things worse and it can be very frustrating when on your own. This is culture shock. Don’t worry, below you will find a list of symptoms to help you identify if you are indeed experiencing shock.
- Feeling extremely overwhelmed
- Sadness and depression
- Extreme homesickness
- Sleep and eating disturbances (either too little or too much)
- Feelings of helplessness/dependency
- Extreme concerns over sanitation and safety
- Skin irritation or breakouts due to extreme anxiety
- Loss of focus
- Inability to complete tasks
What you can do to treat your shock
There’s no need to fear it. Like many experiences in life, it is a process that will eventually pass with time and consistent effort. I believe it depends on how much you want to experience the adventure you’re on. It also helps to have people around you that care and are actively including you in cultural activities. Not only that, it helps when those on the opposite end are open to you and your culture as well. However, this will not always be the case. You may find yourself in a situation where all you have to depend on is you. Still, it is about the adventure. It is about being more understanding than the natives. It is about choosing your destinations wisely and preparing as much as you can for all the possibilities–good and bad–that may come. That’s all a part of the adventure. Call your family and friends back home if you feel the need to. I don’t think the experience is meant to be perfect or how commercials depict the joys of traveling. It’s your own story to create and it can be messy. I know mine is. VERY. So give yourself the time you need to adjust however long it takes.
I hope this helps some first-time travelers out there. Just writing this out has helped me. If you want more information on this subject, here is a link to another article on culture shock and how to overcome it: “Ten Ways To Deal With Culture Shock” by staff members from Gadling.com. Thank you for visiting Rozieland.com. Until next time, happy travels and good health!