At this point, you’re probably wishing for some relief! Culture shock is difficult and overwhelming, there’s no doubt about it. But there are a few helpful hints and tips we can give you to ease your transition. You definitely can do yourself a few favors during this process. First of all, you can work on your attitude. Some people have a natural predisposition toward some of these personality traits. Nevertheless, we should all try to cultivate these qualities, especially when in cultural transition.
- Open-mindedness - Communicativeness
- Flexibility - Cultural sensitivity
- Curiousness - A willingness to take risks
- Optimism - A desire to learn from others and form relationships
J. Hess gives some helpful, practical tips for what to do when culture shock is overwhelming. First, he suggests that you “find people to interact with.” Take an interest in someone else, do something kind for them. It will help you to stop focusing on yourself. He also says to put pictures or other familiar things around you. Keep your area comforting and comfortable. Not only that, but he suggests that you try to keep life simple for a while. Give yourself time to adjust—don’t drown yourself in so much busyness that you can’t work through all the emotions that are racing through your head. On the other hand, some people try to cope with emotional stress by getting so busy they can’t think about it. In this case, it’s important to know yourself and what will be best for you. Try to establish a routine to get a sense of normalcy. Focus some of your remaining energy on language study—this will definitely pay off in terms of cultural adjustment. Begin with making decisions on the small things, and gradually build on that. When you feel upset or sad, you can find someone to confide in, or go get some exercise.9
As Hess says in his guide Studying Abroad/Learning Abroad, “The passage through culture shock and cross-cultural adaptation, Adler suggests, is accompanied by a stressful challenge to and change in the identity of the sojourner.”6 Richard Slimbach gives six areas of competency that are found in people who successfully go through cultural transitions.
1. Perspective consciousness, which enables you to easily take on the perspectives of others and more readily challenge your own cultural assumptions and preferences.
2. Ethnographic skill, which involves a heightened sense of observation and cultural sensitivity.
3. Global awareness, which is the personal revelation that the world is large and diverse, much bigger than you ever thought.
4. World learning, which gives you a specific knowledge of the customs and culture of another group?
5. Foreign language proficiency, which allows you to grasp not just the words and grammar of a language, but also the nonverbal cues and other contextual factors you couldn’t get elsewhere.
6. Affective development, which involves all of the ways you have become more flexible and understanding as a result of your cross-cultural experience.7
These six competencies are ones you can look forward to acquiring as you successfully navigate through cultural transitions.
Geneva’s semester abroad programs include opportunities to study in Rome, China, South Africa, Japan, Spain and many more.