What Should I Do If I Get Culture Shock?
New Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) who are going overseas will probably, at some point, come down with a case of that old travel illness, culture shock.
You can bet you’re likely to contract this malaise too, but don’t be frightened by its nasty name. Calling it “shock” is usually making mountains out of mosquito bites.
At various stages during the affliction, you can expect these kind of thoughts to run through your mind:
Euphoric: Yes! I made it! I did it! I’m abroad! I’m an English teacher! Yipeeeeee…!
Angry: Grrr. How can these people think like this? Nothing works like it should, like back home. Why can’t I make it work?
Depressed and Disappointed: But I had this great mental image of what living/working here was going to be like and real life isn’t living up to my expectations. Boo…!
Isolated: I don’t know anyone. I’m having trouble making friends. (Sings: I’m Mr. Lonely, oh so lonely…)
If you recognize some of these uncharacteristic thoughts invading your heretofore sane brain, don’t let it become a big deal. It’s normal to feel a little stressed. You’ve just made some big changes in your life and having strong feelings about those changes is completely understandable.
But, culture shock sucks! What can I do to manage it?
I think the best advice is also simple advice: Keep busy! Work, travel, find friends, take up some projects or hobbies, volunteer your time. All of these things will make you feel better.
But, don’t just ignore culture shock. Take a little “you” time and identify your symptoms for what they are.
The About.com website has a really good article on Culture Shock that I encourage everyone who is going to live abroad to read.
I also find it helpful, when I have a bad day, to remind myself that problems are a natural part of daily life, and that even in my home country there would be occasional problems with work, my employer, my house or apartment and my friends. Not everything is going to be the fault of your new host country.
Also, be heartened that after changing countries a few times, the symptoms of culture shock typically become less severe each time. You’ll learn to manage your expectations and will, through experience, become more flexible and more adept at dealing with all the stuff that life abroad lobs your way.
Living with Uncertainty
When you take a new job overseas, of course you’re bringing yourself into a new, uncertain situation. You won’t know at first what you can expect to happen and you probably won’t even know your own feelings about what does happen.
To get through this period of uncertainty, which exacerbates culture shock, you should apply the same “cure” that’s named above: Get busy.
Ted’s Tips™ #1: Buck up and take responsibility. You are the one who is in charge of yourself and your feelings. You must monitor how you are feeling and if you find that your mental health is suffering you need to take action, just as you would if it was your physical health.
Ted’s Tips™ #2: Get involved. It makes a huge difference to your overall uncertainty and comfort in a culture if you are busy and involved in your new community.