Culture Shock FAQ


What should I expect when teaching abroad?

It largely depends on where you go and how integrated it has become with your country’s values, but you can expect a number of highs and lows. Put together, these fluctuations resemble a W, so it’s called the Culture Shock W-Curve.

Culture Shock W-Curve

Key phases you’ll probably go through include the honeymoon, engaging culture shock, initial adjustment, mental isolation, and–if you make it this far–acceptance as you integrate into your new environment. Here’s a closer look at what you’ll experience while riding the curve:

  1. The Honeymoon
    Everything is new and quirks are intriguing.
  2. Culture Shock (Crisis)
    This is a mixture of feelings, such as anxiety and confusion, that you’d normally experience in a completely different social environment. The intrigue of your new surroundings has worn off and you’re getting frustrated that you can’t even order a Big Mac without having problems. You’re wondering why small things can become such big issues and are probably missing home.
  3. Initial adjustment
    Eventually you’ll find that you can adjust to the quirks you’ve encountered. You develop a routine and are feeling more in control. You’re getting used to the environment.
  4. Mental Isolation (Revisiting Crisis)
    Though you’re more used to your surroundings, you feel alienated. People do things differently in this culture and it doesn’t make much sense. Free time can get lonely, so your isolation might get worse on weekends or holidays. You’re not sure whether moving to a new country was such a good idea.
  5. Acceptance and Integration
    As you learn to cope with the differences of the new culture, develop a deeper social network, and integrate into your environment, you’ll find that life is much more manageable. This foreign place doesn’t seem so foreign anymore! You might even find yourself giving new comers a hand at dealing with what you went through.

How can I deal with culture shock?

Fortunately, we aren’t hapless plankton floating along in unfamiliar waters; we can do something to change our direction. Here are some tips to fight the stressors in a new culture:

  1. Stay active.Keep doing the things you enjoyed back home, whether swimming, hiking, or walking around. The more time you spend outside of your apartment burning energy, the less time you’ll feel confined and bitter. If you’ve never had a hobby or enjoyed getting out of the house, this is a great opportunity to try something new in a different country.
  2. Try learning the language.Not being able to communicate properly is a large factor in making you unhappy. What’s more is it exercises your brain! Remember, it gets harder to acquire new languages as you get older, so don’t feel bad if you struggle a bit!
  3. Participate in community and school events.This is a great way to work out the kinks of a new culture while getting to know people on a personal level. Developing a social network will help immeasurably in finding comfort when you need it.
  4. Maintain focus on the reason you are there.Enjoy yourself, but don’t be blinded by drinking, shopping, or whatever vice you may develop. Remember why you are there and don’t confuse your priorities.
  5. Keep a journal of new things you encounter.You’ll laugh about most of it later on when you look back and see how you initially reacted to certain events. If you don’t have one, try starting a new Facebook page, Google+ account, or a blog. It’s free, easy to manage, and allows you to keep in touch with friends and family while building a network of followers. Popular blog sites include WordPressBloggerLive Journal, and Movable Type.
  6. Make friends.You are (or about to be) a foreign teach in a foreign land, so meet other foreigners that you can relate to. If you can meet up with someone who has been there a while, do it. Veteran teachers have developed ways of dealing with troublesome situations and are great to bounce ideas off of.
  7. Keep making friends.When you stay out of country for a while, you’ll notice that friendships are often temporary and nomadic. People move around and fall out of touch, so your circle of friends will diminish constantly if you don’t get out and meet new people regularly. Having no friends in a foreign country is not easy to deal with for most people.
  8. Stay positive.You might have to be creative here, especially if you’re dealing with a bad work environment. But finding reasons for how something negative can be seen as positive can be an amusing way of handling a difficult situation. Poor students can be great for teaching you patience; Invasive employers are equally good at developing virtues (humility, perseverance, not murdering people, etc.).
  9. Avoid negative people.Related to the previous point, try not to spend too much time with people who dislike their environment. Negativity is infectious. You don’t want to compound the problem, so try to find friends who are upbeat about their situation.

Following these suggestions will significantly reduce the complications of culture shock. As long as you frequently interact with your environment, you should find yourself in good mental health!