Expatriates and seasoned travellers know culture shock will likely strike within the first six to nine months of moving to a new country. No one is immune and overcoming it can prove to be difficult. Some sufferers have described this plague on global travellers as a black hole, an abyss, a long dark tunnel with no light at the end. You are trapped, suffocating, and no one can help you. The bad news isÃ¢Â?Â¦ that’s only the beginning. Feelings of isolation, helplessness, a loss of ability to perform simple tasks, the loss of ability to communicate properly, amongst other things, can lead to a lack of self confidence and depression.
For a lucky few, the critical period of adjustment to life in a new country will be brief and almost unnoticeable. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of travellers will suffer a physically and emotionally painful test of their ability to adapt and conform. Even mild cases need to be taken seriously and addressed quickly. If left unchecked, the condition will deteriorate. Extreme cases can be debilitating. Those unable to shake themselves loose from this mental funk within six months are advised to seek professional help. Yet few people do. The end result can be a failed expatriate experience, with the sufferer opting to return home.
Fortunately, failure doesn’t have to be the only option. A self diagnosis is the first step towards getting matters under control. You’ll also want to watch family members. Children do not always vocalize this type of problem. The same tell-tale signs you use to identify culture shock in yourself can be applied when observing others. Symptoms can include: anxiety, apathy, mood swings, loss of appetite, problems sleeping (too little or too much), obsessive behaviour, and recurring minor illnesses. Being relentlessly overly critical of the host country and becoming withdrawn are leading indicators.
If you recognize a problem, take action. The only question on a potential sufferer’s mind should be: What’s the best way to overcome this? Experts offer a number of options which share a common theme designed to shake off or minimize these negative effects. That theme is to keep busy. Join something. Become engaged and interact within the new country and culture. Join clubs, groups, volunteer, or take classes. The list of things to do can go on and on. You will also have to be mindful of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Eat right, get plenty of sleep, and make sure you exercise. One more thing, don’t neglect your creative side.
Any project or activity that requires creativity is usually helpful. This can be anything from learning to play a musical instrument, to painting and poetry. Experts like to recommend keeping a journal. In today’s electronic age, that could mean a web journal or web log, also known as blogging.
People don’t often realize how therapeutic something like this can be. As a third time expatriate, I assumed I had built up immunity to culture shock. Six months after a move to Japan, I was proven wrong. I started an online journal. Writing about difficulties made it easier to get all that pent up negativity out in the open. It took time, but this activity in combination with some of the other recommendations worked.
Anyone considering a web journal or blog to help counter the effects of culture shock can get started with one of the free services. You can be set up and publishing your frustrations in a matter of minutes. But before you write, certain rules should apply. Don’t just bash your new country. Make a point to your writing. Try and find the humour in things. For every negative, look for and recognize the positive. Turn off the update notification option in the blogging software. What you write doesn’t need to turn up on a list of recently updated blogs. Keep it private until such time as you are truly ready to share your thoughts and feelings on your new country with the people who live there. After all, you are writing to make yourself feel better, not to make enemies in a land where you are a guest. Sooner or later, it should become easier to see the positive side of living where you are. Your writing should be adjusted to reflect that. That’s when you’ll know you’ve turned a corner and should be well on the way to recovery.
Keep busy, eat right, sleep well, exercise, and get creative. It’s up to the individual to find what they need and what will work for them. Try as many projects and activities as necessary until you get the right combination to thwart what you are going through.