Minimizing the Effects of Culture Shock - Part 1

#1. Culture shock happens

While riding the waves of culture, you will follow a natural pattern of highs and lows. The high points of excitement and interest are usually be followed by depression, disorientation, and frustration. Everyone goes through these ups and downs at different times, in different degrees, and for different lengths of time, but it’s a necessary. Part of the process of transition from one mindset to another; one culture to another. The challenge is to be aware of it. And ask for help to continue to cope and adapt. The main challenge for expats is the negative impact culture shock. Not the initial anticipation of a new way of life or the elation of adventure. Sure, you may be surprised (or delighted!) to see deep fried chicken feet being grilled on steamy street in Bangkok, but that’s not the problem. That’s a reaction (to culture). Culture shock is a distressing condition caused by it after the honeymoon is over. This challenging phase two is marked by the anxieties of being unable to interact or be understood in an unfamiliar environment. It can lead to feeling disoriented, anxious, frustrated, depressed, and isolated. The emotions that go with it aren’t all negative though! In phase one, you were elated and had a positive attitude about your new home, and you were forgiving of small annoyances and inconveniences, chalking them up to the adventure. Later however, after the superficial adjustment phase, those minor annoyances will make you downright angry because everything is harder when you don’t know the unwritten rules. This phase leads to the last stage of recovery. Your anger and frustration decreases. Your sense of humor returns and you start ordering that deep fried chicken feet in the local Thai dialect and enjoy it.

#2. Read, watch, join, and repeat

To minimize the negative effects of culture shock, do your homework before you leave. Read as much as you can by people who blazed the trail of expat adventure before you. Use Google Street View to “drive” along the roads where you may live. Watch some YouTube videos about the region and country. Ask for pre-departure cross-cultural coaching for you and the family. Join an online expat community to ask questions, get reassurances about your concerns, and above all, socialize to make friends! Knowing you’re not alone is your best defense against culture shock.

#3. Put your oxygen mask on first

There’s a two-step trick to offsetting culture shock: 1) becoming self-aware and 2) learning how you’re being perceived by others. You can only change your own behavior, so put the focus on yourself and the rest will take care of itself. Industry reports,  surveying thousands of expats, say the top three challenges nearly half of them face when relocating to the USA, is obtaining documentation. Getting a driver’s license, opening a bank account, and social security number isn’t easy, anywhere. Now, imagine doing it in another culture, in another language! So, I can’t stress this aspect enough, know thyself, first. Then get an outside perspective with the help of a cross-cultural expert who can share some insights and assessments.

#4.Culture is the software of the mind

You may be thinking, can’t I just scrape a list of “do’s and don’ts” off the internet and be done with it? You could. But that’s a short term fix. If it were that easy, there’d be no wars; not a single conflict between anyone, anywhere. That’s not going to work and here’s why: Culture is invisible. We can’t see it. Yet like love and oxygen, we can’t survive without it, because it’s how we solve problems. While you think you know yours, try to describe it. Food, language, clothing, or holiday celebrations don’t count. The same holds true for American culture, you may think you’ve got it down based on what you’ve “seen” from Hollywood TV and movies, but it has a strange way of hiding more than it reveals, especially from its owners! It’s the way we make decisions, process information, view time and relate to people based on our values, beliefs, and perceptions.

Minimizing the Effects of Culture Shock - Part 2
Host Culture: What Makes Americans, American?