How to Handle Culture Shock

Teaching English abroad is a brilliant opportunity to see the world and expand your horizons. But being away from home,  family, living in a different culture and always being surrounded by the unfamiliar – well that can take its toll. If you find yourself feeling uneasy, homesick and skulking back to McDonalds for Western-style comforts for the umpteenth time that week, you might well be suffering from culture shock. Don’t let it get you down though! To make sure you’re back out there soaking up new experiences, sights and sounds in no time at all, we’ve put together a handy guide to help you get through the tough times.

It starts with euphoria

The first thing you’ll feel when you get off the plane is euphoria. You’re in a new country, surrounded by new things and it’s simply amazing. But this natural high has its drawbacks – after all, what goes up, must come down.

The full force of culture shock

Everyone’s different and some lucky people don’t even suffer from a culture shock. But those who do have reported feelings of unease, negativity and a strong desire to shy away from anything new. Homesickness becomes more pronounced too, so you might find yourself longing for your own bed or just a nice bar of chocolate!

How to deal with it

Dealing with a culture shock isn’t as difficult as you’d think. There are just a few simple steps you can take, both before you jet off and while you’re on your travels, which can make a big difference:

1. Manage your expectations

Whilst you may have all your flights booked and are beaming with the anticipation of arriving in your new home away from home, it’s always worth checking out the place you’ll be staying.  This way you know exactly what to expect so you won’t be in for any awkward surprises; after all you might not know about your new neighbours, like the infamous monkeys who call downtown Lopburi in Thailand their home.

You can get a good idea of what to expect by reading other people’s stories and accounts – like the ones here on the blog. Keep an eye out for the kind of challenges they come across. It’s always worth knowing how to handle any situations out of the ordinary.

2.  Don’t panic

“I’ve just arrived and no one speaks English what do I do?!” Relax… everyone feels like this. You’ve just arrived in a new country, of course you’re not familiar with everything. Imagine if you were welcoming someone into your country, they probably wouldn’t even know where to start. Give things time to settle and find a place that you can call a comfortable sanctuary for yourself. And more importantly…

3.  Be open to new things

When you arrive somewhere new, it’s best to go into it with an open mind, so get out there and start exploring.  This way you can find where you’ll be shopping for your groceries, where you can learn to dress like the locals, and even your new local bar. By doing so, you’ll surely meet your new neighbours and even make some friends along the way.  Just remember, be yourself.

4.  Remember your roots

It’s always worth bringing some photos and other items that remind you of home, as it helps you along your journey if you know what you’ve got to go back to at home.  Invest in a phone card or make sure you’re signed up to Skype – let’s face it, you’ll have plenty to catch up on when your family and friends are asking about what you’ve been up to.

5.  Learn a few new phrases

Attempting to learn the language of the country you are visiting will not only help you to get around but also make you confident whilst you’re there.  It also shows that you respect the place you are living and you never know, you could make a few friends among the locals.

6.  Remember… you’re not there forever

Make the most of your time out there, as it might not be forever.  Live for the moment, get out there, and do and see what you can.  From the moment you step foot ’til the moment you’re packing your suitcase back home, who wants to waste their time hesitating and worrying?  It will be one of the most fulfilling and enriching opportunities of your life. So enjoy your TEFL experience…  even if it does all feel a little scary at first.

So, did you suffer from culture shock when you started teaching abroad?  Share your experiences below!

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