How to Avoid Culture Shock

Culture shock is real, but also easily remedied

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Culture Shock is a misleading term. It happens. But it is rarely a shock to the system. At most it is a zap or zing. As a TEFL certified English teacher you’re already half immune. You’ve chosen to take the leap and move abroad. That takes guts. Your Uncle Marty who has never left the country, spends his holidays doing projects around the house and has the same mustache he had in the early 80’s would be in for a real culture shock. But not you. You’re going to transition with ease. That said, here are some things to keep in mind.

This is a move not a holiday

You’re going to an exciting location. And you will have exciting adventures. But don’t go in with a holiday mentality. It’s not going to be a whitewater rafting on Monday, indigenous village on Tuesday kind of experience. You are starting a new job in a new place. That would be a big shift even in your home country. Expect a few bumps and bruises going in. Your big adventure moments will come.

Shrink your new world down

We are all creatures of comfort to some degree. Take your new world and shrink it down to a manageable space. Find the closest market or supermarket. Find a good cafe. Find the closest park or bike path. Find the western food joints. You won’t want them initially but you will eventually. Create a little routine that you can handle from day one.

Explore Slowly

Once you have a routine, start to expand. Do it slowly. Your brain will be telling you to learn as much as you can as fast as you can. Eat at all the restaurants! Learn the language! Make local friends! Tell your brain to shut up. This is your new home. You’ve got time. Let it come naturally.

Decorate

Most likely you will be living in provided housing. Even if it’s decent, it’s not yours. Don’t redecorate the place, that would be a huge waste of money. But give it a splash or two of you. Find a piece of art that you like. Buy a pillow like the one you had back home. It doesn’t take much to make it feel like yours.

Embrace the group experience

You may eventually have lots of local friends. You may become fully immersed in the culture; speaking the language, cooking the food, spouting the history. But that takes time–typically years. In the beginning it’s going to be you and a group of people like you–newbies in a new world. Embrace that support structure. Your teacher friends are not a replacement for your friends back home. They’re in a whole different category. They’re the unpredictable types that will meet you anywhere for any reason. You’ll be amazed at how important they become and how quickly it happens.

Travel

Teaching English abroad will provide you with lots of time to travel. You’ll have summers off of course. But you’ll also have plenty of four day weekends. Take advantage of those extra days. Get on a bus, a boat, a plane. Explore the country. It’ll keep you inspired and it’ll give you a better appreciation of the city or town you’re living in.

Drop off the family grid

Every other blog is going to tell you to call home often. Embrace technology! FaceTime! SnapChat! WRONG ANSWER. Obviously, you should keep in touch with your friends and family. But no more often than you would normally. If you talk to your mom once a week back home, talk to her once a week abroad. Changing your routine will only exacerbate your adjustment issues. Your friends and family will unknowingly become culture shock enablers. Lean on your new friends for support. They are going through the same thing and are best equipped to help you.

Hard times make the best stories

Adjusting to life in a new country isn’t always easy. You’ll struggle to catch the local bus. You’ll struggle to buy cheese. Your ideas of what is polite and perhaps even moral will be challenged. But those obstacles will keep you focused on the world around you. And they will become memories that you treasure. That’s the power of retrospect. You’ll never tell your friends and family about your lesson plans. But you will tell them about the challenges you overcame. 

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