Over the course of a year, everyone experiences highs and lows in emotions and fortunes, wherever they may be. Moving to a new country, taken out of the comfort zone and placed in an unfamiliar environment magnifies these emotions - the highs seem so much higher, and even the hardiest soul can experience an adverse reaction during the lows: culture shock.
Those first few days upon arriving in your new country will likely be remembered forever. New senses; sounds, smells, tastes - everything is so different and a strong sense of adventure is felt.
However a few months into any job, the novelty can certainly start to wear off. This is equally true in a new environment, although the honeymoon period often lasts a little longer. A schedule that involves ample time spent in preparation, in the classroom and in marking homework and tests can begin to take its toll after a while.
It is at this point that the creature comforts of home start to seem so appealing, and so far away. They can appear to clash sharply with the new environment you find yourself in, and things that once seemed exotic and interesting can start to feel completely the opposite.
Fighting Culture Shock - Embrace The Culture
Remembering your original motives for finding a job overseas can help put things into perspective, but also important is realising that not everything can be achieved immediately. For example, learning a new language takes time and requires a certain amount of trial and error. A simple trip to the supermarket can become frustrating if you don’t know what to buy, or try to ask basic questions in the local dialect and are met with blank expressions.
Finding the opportunity to travel to those idyllic places that initially appealed can also be a common problem.
A lot of people travel abroad for exotic beaches and a relaxed lifestyle, only to discover that it can often be quite different from how they imaged. The beaches are there, but reaching them might not be as easy as expected.
The best thing to do is embrace the culture and take what opportunities you do get to go out and explore.
Meet Other Expats
These days even remote locations have an established expat community with pages on social network websites, and although not everyone wants to join their specific activities, they will certainly provide a list of ideas so extensive that you will need years to tick them all off.
These are great places to find upcoming events going on in the local area that would otherwise need translation, or advice on how to find local areas of interest. There may be a temple, theatre, museum or park just around the corner that the indigenous population takes for granted, but helps foreigners get a feel for the culture. Even before arriving in Asia, it is well worth checking out blogs, websites and discussion forums related to your new home town.
The key to fully appreciating the new culture is making friends with local people and enjoying a different way of life. A common symptom of homesickness can be a desire to recreate an atmosphere similar to that of home. There are expat bars in every major city in the world that make a living based entirely on that desire. Certainly, it’s great to have the chance to drink a quick beer and chat with someone from the same background as you, and it can become an easy choice.
Make sure you remember to go out and do some exploring though!
So, How Can You Avoid Culture Shock?
Be prepared. Read up on your specific location and get a feel for what there is to do before you arrive.
At work also, preparing lessons thoroughly gives the teacher and students a chance to enjoy their time together.
Be realistic. You will be arriving primarily as a teacher, so don’t expect to have a year’s holiday!
Be positive. Another cliché, but true. A positive mental attitude can overcome most things.
Be curious. Keeping an open mind and witnessing the unique elements of a different culture are some of the things that go into shaping perspectives of the world as a whole. So when you hear the strange music, fireworks and singing - go and check it out.
Participate. Finding groups to keep up your own interests and joining in with locally run clubs can give a chance to see the country as something more than a tourist. Language classes especially help lead to a deeper understanding of the culture.
Keep in touch. Regular contact with people at home provides perspective and can refresh your interest by seeing things through someone else’s eyes.
Keep a routine. Maintaining a regime of regular mealtimes and exercise is not just good medical advice.
A healthy body and mind makes work easier, and allows the energy levels to stay up when your day off arrives. It can be difficult to keep a balanced diet in a different country, so find something cheap and healthy you like that you can turn to several times a week.
Keep a record. Photographs posted on Facebook give a chance to recall not just what happened over recent days, but an experience of life abroad will stay with you forever. Take some time to compile the memories in a diary, blog or regular correspondence that can act as a permanent record. All those highs will come back to you, and the lows more or less forgotten.
To avoid culture shock you really have to find balance. Be aware that you’re in a different culture and it will take time to adapt. Be realistic about your environment and expectations, it’s not going to be all fun and games, but there will be plenty of opportunity for enjoyment.
Find locals and fellow expats to make friends with, and they’ll help you through the troubling times and make the good times better.