CULTURE SHOCK AND REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK
Have you ever heard of or experienced culture shock? This strange phenomenon, which happens when you visit a foreign country and lose your cultural references, is actually quite common and can manifest itself in many different ways. Anger, anxiety, insomnia, homesickness, irritability, changes in appetite, sadness, excessive judgments... No matter the duration and destination of your trip, a culture shock can affect you to various degrees and even if there is no treatment to cure or prevent it, there are ways to lessen the symptoms. The most important thing you can do is understand and accept what’s going on. Here are the 4 typical stages of culture shock, although you might not experience them in a specific order or at all.
Usually the first step of an intercultural exchange, the honeymoon is characterized by a period during which everything new seems exotic, romantic and charming. All your senses are stimulated and you feel elated; it’s total happiness!
Cultural differences are starting to bother you. You compare things to the way they were back home, you are irritated by the residents’ behaviour and a feeling of disassociation between local customs and your own culture is setting. Negative emotions are starting to arise (anger, anxiety, sadness, etc.) and certain elements like the language barrier, social injustices and lack of sanitation are reinforcing your loneliness and desire to withdraw.
At a certain point, you start to get used to the culture and your level of frustration is declining. New routine and habits are established, you develop bonds with local residents and travellers, you start to see similarities between the cultures and you can approach the differences with humour and perspective.
You are now fully comfortable in your new environment. Without praising a culture over another, you can pleasantly navigate biculturalism and make the most out of your intercultural experience.
Soothe Your Culture Shock
Prepare for your trip by researching your host country, its culture, feeding habits, climate, customs, etc.
Identify how you feel and validate your emotions by comparing them to the different stages of culture shock
Try to be patient and kind with yourself and others
Don’t be afraid to communicate how you feel with other travellers, locals or even with someone back home (however, make sure the person you open up to is equipped to understand and help you, because those who have never experienced a culture shock could inadvertently reinforce your prejudices and negative emotions)
Respect your need for rest and alone time, but be careful not to isolate yourself
Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle (eat proper food, exercise, have a regular sleep schedule, etc.) and avoid overconsuming alcohol, drugs and sweet snacks that will contribute to your mood swings
Give yourself daily challenges, small steps that will make you feel proud and accomplished
Don’t get caught in the social media trap; spending too much time talking to your friends and family back home or comparing yourself to famous travellers could give you a sense of loneliness, nostalgia or failure
Keep in mind that culture shock is part of the travel experience that you were looking for (dedramatize the situation when you feel in distress and remind yourself that every moment is a memory under construction)
Don’t let yourself spiral down into depression and seek help before becoming overwhelmed by fear or sadness
Reverse Culture Shock
Unlike culture shock, reverse culture shock affects travellers when they come back home. With stages very similar to its forerunner, it can make reintegration quite challenging. The idealization of the intercultural experience can create a gap between the traveller and its relatives who don’t share the same understanding or interest for the host culture. When returning home to find out nothing changed (the house is exactly as is, friends and family still have the same jobs, local businesses are still there) travellers sometimes feel a profound sense of despair, like brutally awakening from a beautiful, vivid dream.
How great to be back home, see all the people you missed dearly and enjoy the little pleasures you found yourself craving (your dog, a cream cheese bagel, a stable internet connection, your own comfy bed, your favourite shirt, a warm bath, etc.).
Although you were at the centre of attention for a bit, you realize that people are quickly losing interest in your trip. You feel lonely, misunderstood and nostalgic. You’re yearning for your life abroad as your daily routine here seems boring and meaningless.
Your mood is slowly stabilizing as you do projects that help you navigate the reality of a new you in an old setting. Even if you miss the flavours, fragrances and landscapes that coloured your journey, you are beginning to look back at your experience with gratitude, measuring the many benefits and learning opportunities it provided you with.
You can finally talk about your adventure without getting all teary-eyed and you are no longer spending most of your time looking at pictures or the price of plane tickets. You are objective about your own culture and your host one and you live with the best of both worlds.
Soothe Your Reverse Culture Shock
Avoid comparing your destination and hometown; every culture has its strengths and weaknesses so it wouldn’t be fair to idolize one over the other
Be prepared to gracefully face criticism and confrontation when talking about your experience; remember your own culture shock and the process it’s been to get comfortable with your host culture
Learn to discern the moment when your friends and family become saturated with your travel stories to avert conflicts and awkward situations
Keep in touch with the people you met abroad to soothe your nostalgia
Find traces of your destination around you to revival your memories (conversation groups in the local language, traditional cuisine restaurant, a music band touring nearby, crafting workshops, etc.)
Make new personal and professional goals aligned with the person you became
Get involved in travel forums and intercultural organizations
Be a tourist in your own region by going on little getaways that will quench your thirst for adventure