Living and working abroad is all we can think about, and there are some really good reasons for that. But before we all start packing our bags to travel and get paid to do what we love, there are two very important things to prepare for: culture shock and reverse culture shock. Having a coping plan in place is crucial in transitioning to your new life abroad and also preparing for your eventual return home. Read on to become a pro at recognizing the signs and knowing how to deal with it like a seasoned traveler.
What is culture shock?
Culture shock is the disorienting feeling of being in a place with unfamiliar customs. The Center for Study Abroad lists symptoms to watch out for, such as withdrawal, irritability and hostility toward locals. Everyone experiences culture shock differently, so these may appear more extreme for some than others.
How to deal with culture shock
1. Talk to other travelers. Acknowledging that you’re feeling funky will generally be met with a “me too,” so it helps to reach out to others. Having someone to confide in while you make your transition drastically reduces the feelings of isolation.
2. Meet locals. This is probably one of the reasons you wanted to travel in the first place, so don’t forget about it when you start feeling down. Take a class, chat with the waiter or use meet-up apps to find a local with your interests.
3. Learn the language. Feeling confident in a country that speaks a different language than your native tongue is challenging at first, but picking up some key words and phrases makes a huge difference.
4. Get involved. Depending on why you’re visiting, you might already have a community involved in local life, but if not, try joining one. Anything from environmental projects to dance classes are available in just about any city.
5. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, maintain an exercise routine and crack open that brand new travel journal you brought. When this phase passes, you’ll be ready to jump right into this new life you worked so hard for!
What is reverse culture shock?
When you return from your incredible time abroad to find that what you considered home doesn’t quite feel like home anymore, it can be very disorienting. Also called re-entry shock, reverse culture shock is commonly overlooked.
The University Studies Abroad Consortium lists symptoms such as restlessness, depression and frustration as indications of reverse culture shock. It could take several months before you find comfort in the place you used to know and love, but simply acknowledging these symptoms can make such a difference.
How to deal with reverse culture shock
1. Prepare. Let friends and family know you’re going to be a hot mess for a while, and remind yourself that it’s okay too. Having that awareness going into it will prevent a lot of confusion.
2. Stay connected with your overseas friends. There are almost too many communication platforms to keep up with, so staying in touch with friends is incredibly easy. Missing your Saturday routine? Send a snap to your besties overseas. The world is so accessible now, you’ll realize that people aren’t really that far away.
3. Acknowledge that your friends changed too. You’ve just had this amazing adventure and everyone from home might seem a bit boring, but remember to have an open mind and don’t forget to listen to their stories.
4. Find reasons to love home again. It might seem like everything abroad was better and home doesn’t really make sense anymore, but looking at it with the perspective you had while traveling will help. Explore your city as if it’s brand new.
5. Give yourself time. It’s going to be a roller coaster of emotions for a while. Letting yourself grieve the loss of your overseas home while making a point to relearn your own culture will take time. Having a strong network of support and a few coping techniques is the most you can do, and the rest is just to wait.
What have you learned from your experiences with culture shock and reverse culture shock? Share your stories with us @BritandCo.
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