Gullfoss Iceland

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I'm an expat whose goal is to visit every country in the world.

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6 Ways to Reduce Culture Shock

6 Ways to Reduce Culture Shock

When many people are given the chance to move overseas, they often jump at the chance.  After all, it is a great opportunity to expand your horizons, experience something new, and learn about a new culture in an in-depth manner that might not be possible during a short visit.  In addition, it is a chance to start an exciting new chapter of life.  Of course, while the idea of living in a new country is certainly exciting, the novelty of it inevitably ends, and people often develop culture shock, which is when a sense of disorientation from being in an unfamiliar situation arises.  If someone does not get over it successfully, it can lead to someone wanting to leave and return to their own country.

However, it does not have to be that way.  Here are 6 useful ways to reduce culture shock.

I spent two years teaching in this classroom

1) Develop a Routine

This is probably the most important way to reduce culture shock.  Try to establish a daily routine soon after you arrive in a new country.  This will be easier if you are sent to a foreign country for work rather than for a study abroad program, but even developing a routine for a study abroad program can work as well since you will have a class schedule.  When you develop a routine, you will maintain some aspect of your regular life, but it will simply be in a different place.  Therefore, you will still keep a sense of stability.  Plus, for me personally, I have found that when I establish a routine, I tend to start truly thinking of a place as home. For me, when I first moved to South Korea in the early 2010s, I was taken to my apartment, and then I was told that I was expected to teach the next day.  Therefore, I quickly developed a routine that I kept more or less unchanged for the next two years.

2) Accept Cumbersome Bureaucracy

If you move to a new country, it is likely you will have to deal with immigration and residency issues.  If your place of employment deals with these types of issues on your behalf, that is quite helpful.  However, if you have decided to make the move on your own and need to deal with government bureaucracy, the best thing is to simply accept that the process will be cumbersome and not get frustrated with it.  I know of pretty much no country in the world where the bureaucratic process is smooth, easy, or straightforward.  In my personal experience, what often is said to take a few days often turns to into a few weeks or longer.  For instance, when my residency card expired, the entire renewal process took almost a month and half instead of the usual week because of government issues.  Therefore, in order to avoid getting exasperated, it is best to recognize that government bureaucracy is going to be the same wherever you go, and it is best to accept it as part of expat life.

3) Remain Open-Minded and Positive

If you move overseas, the key to keeping culture shock away is to always remain open-minded to the experience and keep a positive mindset regardless of the situation.  It is often incredibly easy to focus on the negatives, and if you do that, you will start to view everything in the country through a negative lens.  Those negative experiences will very quickly pile up, and that will inevitably lead to an equally negative experience.  Instead, try to always view everything through a positive lens.  In order to do that, it is best to tell yourself that while not everything will be perfect when you're living or studying in a foreign country, you should always think of it as a life experience that will give you an interesting story in the future.  Plus, it is excellent training for later travel or expat adventures. 

4) Keep in Contact with Friends and Family

Just because you up and move to a foreign country does not mean you have to abandon everything and everyone in your native country completely.  A great way to help reduce culture shock is to keep in regular contact with friends and family who are back in your native country.  They can help serve as an anchor and support system when things get difficult in your new home.  In this modern day and age, it is extremely easy to keep in contact with those you are close with via Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, etc.  The days of waiting days or months for a letter are long gone and part of history. 

5) Explore with Day Trips

The Boseong Tea Fields in South Korea

When you move to a new country to either live long-term or study in, it is important to acquaint yourself with it.  After all, you might be spending a significant amount of time there.  Therefore, when you have free time, go and take day trips somewhere in the country.  For one thing, it will help you get used to the transportation system of the country, or it can give you experience driving if you have your own source of transportation.  This actually helps in not only learning more about your new host country's history and culture, but it also gives you experience in using the country's infrastructure.  This can help in getting used to how things are done which can help reduce culture shock.  When I lived in South Korea, I usually took a day trip somewhere in the country almost every weekend.  This gave me a lot of experience of using the train and bus system, and while the system is not perfect, I learned to accept it, and it never bothered me.  Most importantly, I got to see and experience a part of South Korea that many short-term visitors probably rarely see, and it helped me develop a better understanding of the culture.

6) Don't Stereotype

As someone who has traveled extensively and currently lives in the Middle East, I can say in all honesty that stereotyping does not help.  If you start stereotyping when you live in a foreign country, it will most likely wear you down, and you'll eventually leave because you will refuse to see that stereotypes are generally not true, nor are they representative of an entire population.  For instance, someone from another country can easily develop the stereotype that every American has a gun which is certainly not true (only about 22% out of 323 million people own a gun).  Having lived in the Middle East for five years now, I have been shocked at how inaccurate views of people in this region are.  For instance, most women I know here do not wear a hijab, and many people here tend to be more interested in things that other throughout the world are interested in, such as sports, fashion, and having a good life.  From my personal viewpoint, what I have seen in the news does not accurately reflect what I have experienced here.  Therefore, when you move to a foreign country, I would also keep an open-mind and realize that people tend to be the same regardless of what country they are from.

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