How To Overcome Culture Shock

Insights on Culture Shock From An Intern

Let’s talk culture shock.

The minute you land in another country, you’re busy taking in all the new. New languages, new food, new cars, new fashion, new possibilities. You’re in the honeymoon phase, when both your eyes and your heart are open to all the adventures that lie ahead.

This feels like the greatest thing you’ve ever experienced.

On shorter trips, the honeymoon phase can consume your entire vacation, because you never have to fully settle in. However, when you temporarily live in another country, not only will you have that incredible rush of excitement, but you may also feel something different, and less glamorous.

It’s called culture shock.

Most people assume culture shock means being surprised by unfamiliar social norms, foods, languages, or lifestyle. It is so important to understand that culture shock can be as simple as feeling disoriented in your everyday life.

Before you feel fully comfortable in your new home, it’s normal to go from the blissful honeymoon stage to the uneasy, anxious culture shock stage. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, please know this is to be expected.

Even though you may not be able to avoid culture shock entirely, there are things you can do to make it easier to overcome.

  1. Admit that culture shock exists

You’ve heard the phrase, “admitting it is the first step”, right? Well, that’s exactly what you need to do now. Accept that culture shock exists and understand that as much as you feel like you’re a fearless world traveler, you are not immune to discomfort.

  1. Learn about the country as much as possible before you go

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for your time abroad is to study up on your host country. Take time to read through travel books, forums, and blog. If you’re able, talk to people who have been there.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask your Program Coordinator for advice!

Ask them what other participants had problems with, how they overcame it, and what to expect. World Internships is there to help your experience be as incredible as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions!

  1. Write down what you love when you first get there

As I mentioned earlier when you first arrive everything is new and beautiful. I’ll never forget one of my friends telling me to write down all the things I loved about New Zealand in those first few weeks. This was the best advice, as it helped me remember all of the love I felt for my new country. I didn’t dwell on the things that frustrated me.

  1. Put your time abroad in perspective

During the times that I felt most lonely,  I picked myself up by putting my time abroad in perspective. I sat there and thought, “Okay, I am only in New Zealand for three months’ total, that’s it.”

I interned for four days a week and couldn’t afford to sit in the hostel and feel scared or sorry for myself. Instead, I forced myself to go out, make friends, and take opportunities that came my way. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that this is the experience you hoped for, and now you’re here, so how are you going to make the most of it? Sooner than you know, you’ll be having the time of your life.

  1. Stay in touch

Combat culture shock by connecting with family and friends from home. Call them and tell them your experiences, and talk to people about how you’re feeling. Sometimes, people outside of your situation can give you the best advice.

  1. Find a healthy distraction

It’s okay to take a break, just make sure what you choose to distract yourself with is healthy for your mind. Don’t stay locked up in your house, instead find something that makes you feel refreshed, and pushes you to overcome your sadness.

  1. Make local friends

One of the best ways to stop feeling lonely is to surround yourself with other people that go out and adventure. While making any friends abroad is great, meeting locals can help you better understand their culture and answer any little questions you may have.

  1. Take care of yourself

Eat well, exercise, and take time to sleep. Taking care of yourself can be difficult, but is extremely important. If you start to feel unmotivated, taking time out to eat properly and exercise will help boost you back to your normal self.

  1. Get out there

My biggest piece of advice is to take advantage of the time you have in this new country and force yourself to get out there and travel. This is your time to be a tourist and explore the country’s sites and culture. Getting the motivation to go out when I felt lonely allowed me to make some amazing friendships. This made my time abroad so much easier.

Although culture shock can be one of the toughest aspects of traveling, it is a part of the experience, (just like the scenery and food!) By recognizing and doing your best to cope with it, you can get back to your incredible experience. Don’t let the fear of culture shock stop you from something unforgettable.

P.S Want help deciding which internship is best for you? The World Internships team has a great resource here.