Unfortunately, there is not a vaccine for Culture Shock…
From honeymoon stage to homesickness, culture shock is just something we cannot escape when we go for the big move abroad. From sudden euphoria, to sudden sadness, to gradual acceptance - it really is an emotional rollercoaster.
Stage 1: The Honeymoon Stage
As soon as we enter a foreign country, we breathe in a new culture. We see new things, people and places we have never seen before. We tune into the conversations around us (let’s be honest, if it isn’t in English, most of us don’t stand a chance…but we listen on public transport anyway!), we easily eat and drink our body weight within about 5 days of arrival, and chances are, we’ll visit the top 20 places in the area, because TripAdvisor told us to! And of course we take a shameless amount of selfies, because everything we see or do at this stage, is simply a novelty.
Stage 2: The Homesickness Stage
Now, unfortunately, this initial “honeymoon” period of wanting to explore and walk the streets to death, begins to fade. After a few days, weeks, or even a few months for some people, the bouts of homesickness kick in. We begin to miss our core support system like our family and friends; we start to crave typical British delights such as our classic roast dinners, cups of tea and god forbid; even the British weather! When you’re feeling fed up of the sheer heat abroad and genuinely wishing you had a fan attached to you at all times, or when you’re that cold you just feel numb, you actually start to appreciate (shock!) the mild seasons back in the UK. Before moving abroad, I honestly never imagined I would miss British weather, but I did.
Stage 3: The Depression Stage
This stage of the culture shock process is not pretty. It varies from person to person, depending on how down you feel and for how long. Those inescapable feelings of homesickness and loneliness begin to take their toll. You may feel like you don’t belong or fit in, you may feel physically or socially isolated, you may lose your appetite, or you may just want to fall off the earth until further notice. This is certainly the lowest point of the culture shock process. Your yearning to go home may even result in shamelessly browsing cheapest flights home on the EasyJet website! (I may have done that…until I realised I couldn’t and shouldn’t just chuck in the towel).
Stage 4: The Adjustment Stage
This is often the turnaround point, where you decide to take action. Joining social groups, joining a sports team, finding a tandem buddy, taking up a creative hobby, making travel plans or signing up to a language course, reaps many rewards. You start to meet new people who are into the same things as you, and therefore the chances are you’ll make new friends, and maybe even friends for life. You develop a routine with commitments, and so this grounds you. At this point, you actually feel like you’ve just rocked an A* in How To Live Abroad (if this existed of course).
Stage 5: The Acceptance Stage
The final stage is the most emotionally rewarding stage of the culture shock process. You feel settled, integrated and social. You become so used to the cultural differences, that you don’t even notice them anymore. Tourists may even approach you for directions and mistake you for a local (if you’re lucky!). It takes a considerable amount of time and effort to reach this acceptance stage, but once you reach it, you, almost ironically, feel at home!
As part of the FCO’s ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign, they highly recommend you check out your country of destination’s laws, culture and travel advice before you head out there. Getting a feel for your country of residence before you go would certainly reduce the impact of your culture shock, which in turn will help improve your emotional well being abroad. And making sure you have all the relevant documentation, should help avoid nasty surprises.
Get researching on these very helpful websites: www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo and www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. Don’t forget to follow @FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter too for regular travel advice! As Ronan Keating once said, ‘life is a rollercoaster, you’ve just gotta ride it!’