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How to Deal with Culture Shock and Help Kids Cope with it too

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Moving overseas and immersing yourself into a new and unfamiliar culture is a difficult thing to do for just about anyone. You're leaving behind everything you've come to know over the years and all of the comforts of home for a strange land where you'll gradually have to learn how to adapt to a new culture, a new way of life, and maybe even a new language.

How to Deal with Culture Shock

Sometimes adjusting to a new culture can become a bit overwhelming and you may experience symptoms like loneliness, homesickness, and even anger. So what should you do when you experience the homesick and when culture shock hits you hard? Here are a few tips on how to deal with the culture shock and make the most of your time abroad.

First of all, what is "culture shock"?

Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. After moving to a new location with a different culture, you may feel an initial sense of happiness that over time changes to feelings of frustration, loneliness, and other negative emotions. If you experience a range of emotions while in a new culture, then your feelings may be symptomatic of culture shock.

Different phases of culture shock

For most people who experience culture shock, there are four main stages that they'll go through over the course of their adjustment period: the honeymoon stage, the frustration stage, the understanding stage, and the acclimation stage. Understanding the differences between these four stages will help you to adjust to a new lifestyle and overcome culture shock.

Honeymoon stage

The honeymoon stage is the initial stage that comes when you first arrive in your new home country. In this stage, you will likely be filled with excitement and euphoria about being in this new and wonderful place, and you will be eager to see all the sights and experience the new culture of this foreign country. You might even be fascinated by the different languages, different cuisines, and even the different clothes and think you're ready for all of the experiences and challenges that come with living overseas.

Fighting the frustration

After the honeymoon stage comes the frustration stage. The frustration stage usually arrives after all of the initial excitement about being in a new country has worn off. In the frustration stage, you may be easily agitated or angered. Also, you may begin to feel homesick and may start thinking about moving back to your home country.

Understanding the new culture

When the frustration has dissipated, you will gradually begin to adjust to the new culture. This process typically takes some time though, so it's important to be patient and understand everything to feel more comfortable and secure with your daily activities.

Getting properly acclimated

The final stage of culture shock is acceptance. Once the frustration wears off, you begin to make friends in your new country and adjust to the cultural differences that exist. Also, you will feel more comfortable and finally begin to feel at home. This sense of belonging is an important part of the acclimation process.

Dealing with culture shock

Though there is no way to guarantee that you won't experience culture shock when you move internationally, fortunately there are several things you can do to reduce culture shock symptoms. Here's the best way to overcome culture shock:

  • Understand and educate yourself: It's common to experience culture shock when living abroad. You might feel a bit insecure or anxious about the lifestyle, culture, and tradition. That is why it's important to educate yourself about everything before moving overseas. This will help you feel less insecure and anxious.
  • Accept and adjust: Try to recognize that you are experiencing culture shock and, if possible, try to visit your new home a couple times before moving. Through books and online research, you can explore various aspects of your new culture that intersect with your interests. Also, try to participate in cultural pastimes like festivals and carnivals to help make your new home more familiar.
  • Consider your reasons: Directly address aspects of your move that may produce apprehensive feelings that aren't related to living in a different culture.
  • Be open-minded and consider taking language courses: If you're open-minded about a new culture, it will be much easier to overcome culture shock. Try to identify aspects of the new culture that you will like. Maybe a particular food is prepared with ingredients you like or some local music is performed with an instrument you can play. Connecting with cultural elements can provide a more layered and personal bond with your new home. Also, if you don't know the native language, consider taking a language course. Learning everything you can about your destination country can help you avoid culture shock.
  • Build new friendships: Try to connect with schools and groups in your new area before you move. This can be done through e-mail, social media, and phone calls. Creating opportunities to meet people can help you feel more confident in your efforts to adjust to a new culture.
  • Stay in touch with your family and friends: This can comfort you while you're away, and it will help you reduce reverse culture shock when you move back home.
  • Have a positive attitude: The most important thing in combatting culture shock and making the most of any experience is having a positive mindset. Keeping a positive attitude is helpful in dealing with culture shock. Also, it is helpful in making friends and experiencing new things, generally.

Helping children cope with culture shock

As adults, you know this process of "culture shock" is entirely normal. But for a kid this process can be difficult because children don't have the prior life experience to draw from when it comes to adapting to new lifestyles and acclimating to new cultures. Here's how to help your children deal with culture shock:

  • Research the new location with your children and prepare your them for the move before you relocate
  • Teach your children to understand and tolerate foreign cultures without compromising their morals
  • As soon as you arrive in the new country, visit new places and explore the surroundings with your kids
  • Allow them to stay in touch with friends and family even after moving abroad
  • Keep your kids with familiar objects and routines
  • Motivate and encourage them to pursue their passions

Finally, culture shock is something everyone experiences, but the more you prepare for the upcoming life change, the better your child will adapt.

Patrick Hanan  Posted by Patrick Hanan on August 27, 2009

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