When you arrive in a new country, you will be welcomed with new smells, noises, languages, food and people. Everything is new...everything is a culture shock.
So what is culture shock? When you travel to new countries nothing will be familiar and the term 'culture shock' basically means that things are different to the that at home. Culture shock can vary from slight to dramatic. When you arrive in a new destination where you have changed what you eat, what you hear, what you do, what you say, what you smell all at once, can be quite overwhelming. This can feel worse at the start of your trip if you have a bit of apprehension about the trip ahead and you are most likely jet-lagged, tired and trying to adjust to your new life. Our first stop on our trip was India and I would describe the culture shock as quite dramatic (but in a good and exciting way) and it made the rest of trip seemed easy to adapt to after the craziness of India. The initial culture shock can be daunting but give it time and you will settle into a different way of life.
The stages of culture shock
Everyone will react different to different circumstances, but generally there are four main stages people will go through. Some people will go through the stages quickly, whereas other will take weeks or months to settle in.
Stage one - Wow, this is incredible
Some call this the honeymoon period, everything is new and intriguing and you will not know where to look. As you have just arrived you will be excited and you have only just left your home comforts.
Stage two - OMG, what am I doing here?
After spending a bit of time away from home, your home comforts feel a millions miles away and the differences in day to day living can start to affect you. The different foods, the language barrier, what is deemed 'acceptable' accommodation can start to cause anxiety or confusion, which can lead to feeling a bit home sick. These feelings are all normal!
Stage three - Accepting the differences
After you are over the 'OMG what am I doing here' stage, you will accept and appreciate the differences. As you enter this stage you will start to feel more comfortable in your surroundings and relax.
Stage four - Adjusting
The final stage is when what was a culture shocks, starts to become the norm. You are embracing the differences and the culture (and enjoying it). At times you may feel like you are back in stage two and three but you will get over it quickly.
How to get over or minimise culture shock?
Everyone is different and some people will struggle with culture shock more than others. Here are ways which you can help minimise culture shock:
Reading about the country before you go will provide you with valuable information and knowledge before you leave the airport. You don't want to over research, as half the fun is arriving to the unknown and experiencing what a new country can offer. But a bit of pre-reading can prepare you for the major cultures shocks and make the arrival a bit less stressful. I personally like reading blogs with first hand experiences and I usually download a guidebook on my kindle which I will read on the flight. I appreciate others might want to do a lot more research than this but it is your experience and you need to do what is right for you.
Have an open mind
You need to recognise the culture shock for what it is. Its new and that's why a lot of people travel, to experience new cultures, new food, new experiences and new perspectives of the world. Remember this and to see the positives of all new experiences, good and bad. If you travel with an open mind you will find it easier to adapt quicker.
Choose your first destination carefully
If you have a bit of apprehension about travelling and dealing with culture shock, start your journey in countries similar to home. This will help you settle into the travelling lifestyle and then you can introduce more and more culture shocks as the journey goes on.
If you are taking the leap and your first stop is to somewhere completely different to home, then maybe spend a bit more money the first few nights of the trip and stay in a western style hotel as this may help to ease you in. Then move on to cheaper and more local accommodation when you have settled in. This comes down to personal preference as many travellers enjoy throwing themselves into the deep end from day one. Do what makes you feel comfortable.
Try to get as much sleep as you can on the flight, as if you are tired the initial culture shock will seem worse than it is. Jetlag can be a horrible thing! Click here to read how to survive a long haul flight.
Speak to other travellers
Speaking to other people who are in the same position can install confidence in you that you are not the only one feeling that way. Some travellers may have been travelling in the country for a while and can be full of tips and knowledge that they can pass onto you.
Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal can be a way of you getting things off your chest and to remind yourself how you felt at the start of the trip. As your trip goes on you will see how you have acclimatised and how the things that were a culture shock, start to turn into the norm.
My final point is don't stop yourself getting excited about the trip because you are worried about the culture shock. It is normal to be a little nervous when travelling to new countries and leaving for a long trip but remember that the experiences, good and bad will be part of your journey and the memories will stay with you forever.