Culture Shock and How to Overcome it
You have probably already heard of culture shock and maybe even experienced it during your trips. As a French person who has travelled a lot and who has been living in Mexico for about two months now, I have been through culture shock and know it can deeply impact a person. Thus, I truly believe you should be aware of it and know a few tips to help you overcome it. That way, you would be able to make the most of your trip and go back home with a brand new cultural understanding and perspective on the world!
I would define culture shock as an intense feeling of disorientation experienced when coming into contact and being immersed in a different culture than our own. Through my numerous travels, I have come to realise that the further you travel, the bigger this shock will be. When travelling, it is then important to keep in mind that everything can change; even things you thought were universal. You could experience changes in the way of life, social codes, interactions, language, traditions, dress code, food, climate, landscapes, fauna, flora, and many more. For instance, I was extremely surprised by how different the fauna was between Mexico and France. I had never seen an iguana in Paris! In front of all these unfamiliarities, my reaction was the much talked about culture shock.
According to specialists, culture shock usually unfolds in four different stages which are the “honeymoon stage”, the “distress stage”, the “adaptation stage”, and the “independence and acceptance stage”. Obviously, the duration of these stages vary a lot from one person to another, and each person will not necessarily go through all of them.
When I first arrived in Mexico, I was feeling over the moon, ready to live to the fullest, immerse myself in the culture, meet people and eat as much traditional food as my appetite would allow me to. This was the “honeymoon stage”. After a few weeks the “distress stage” slowly started to take over, leaving me confused, frustrated, alone and sad. At this point, I was feeling the need to go home in order to find everything that was familiar again. However, I knew this was a normal stage, so I gave it some time, and I finally entered the “adaptation stage” during which I started to understand the culture and people. After living in Mexico for two months, I feel like I have just reached the last stage as I am way less disoriented and can understand the culture slightly better. However, it seems to me that fully understanding another culture is a lifetime achievement. Every culture has its own complexity and I truly believe they deserve the time you spend trying to decode them.
Although culture shock is almost unavoidable, there are ways to make it easier for you to overcome it. First of all, it is crucial to remain open-minded and curious. Don’t hesitate to talk to locals and to ask them questions. Trying to learn the country’s language can also help you feel included and a part of the community. Overcoming culture shock is a long process and you might be tempted to withdraw into yourself as you feel the need to go home. But on the contrary, you need to open up and to hold on to your goals and to the initial reasons that made you come to this country. One other thing that helped me was to stay in touch with my home country. I call my family and friends as much as I can. Reading the news is also a great way to maintain a link with your home country as you will know what is happening there while you are overseas.
To conclude, even though culture shock can be personally challenging, I believe it is worth persevering because, once you have experienced it, you will have the most amazing time and have acquired a new cultural baggage and perspective. Don’t lose hope, it can take a while to adapt, but it will happen and, trust me, you will be rewarded for your perseverance and determination!