Culture shock is not uncommon — visiting a new country can be overwhelming, scary and lonely. I experienced it firsthand during my extensive travels in Asia. Ultimately, though, the good times far outweighed the tough ones, and my time away was an experience I’ll never forget or regret.
If you’re considering traveling abroad but are concerned about culture shock, know that there are ways you can overcome it. Here are a few strategies that have helped me.
Embrace the differences.
When I first arrived in Asia after traveling thousands of miles, I was high on the adrenaline of the experience. But the reality of being in such a different place really settled in after a few minutes, and I grew fearful and retreated into my shell.
To get out of that funk, I reminded myself that I had a unique opportunity to explore a brand new country. So I did as many fun and new things as I could: I went to festivals, explored the food scene and made local friends. It was a little scary at times, but I realized that getting out of my comfort zone is part of the traveling experience and learned to enjoy the unknown.
Occasionally I encountered situations I struggled to understand — like being shoved out of the way when boarding a train or getting shortchanged by a vendor at the market. But I had to remember that these cultural differences had nothing to do with me personally. Instead of getting upset, I read and learned about these situations after they happened to help myself understand them. Gaining this knowledge really helped me grow and learn about the cultures and places I was visiting.
Eat somewhere interesting.
A big part of overcoming culture shock was exploring and familiarizing myself with local cuisine. It can be fun to visit restaurants with a unique ambiance or interesting menu. For example, when I was in Korea, I indulged in Korean barbecue a few times. The many side dishes and the novelty of cooking my own food at the table meant each meal was an exciting experience.
Embrace the local language.
A language barrier can make culture shock even tougher. One thing I learned while traveling abroad was that, while I couldn’t win over all the people I met with a simple smile, speaking even a couple words in their language showed them that I was at least trying. This was the case with store owners, strangers on the street and people I worked with. Embracing the local language allowed me to unlock more knowledge about the culture, too, because the two are intertwined. The more of the language I learned, the less stressed, frustrated and confused I felt in various situations.
Many local communities offer language exchanges to expats and foreigners at coffee shops, libraries or other public meeting spots. If you have the time or interest, consider joining one. It’s a great way to meet new people while picking up on the native dialect.
Remember why you’re there.
When the times got tough, I reminded myself that I was traveling abroad for a reason. For me, that reason was exploration and learning more about the world — and every new tour, meal or encounter helped me do that. My “why” also included learning bits and pieces of a new language, studying the local culture and gaining a few pounds on good market food. Keeping that in mind helped me overcome the struggles of culture shock and embrace and enjoy my unique, once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Many cities have Facebook groups where expatriates can socialize and arrange meet-ups. These groups can be helpful for anyone seeking information about accommodations, things to do and more.
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