Culture Shock | Travel Tuesday

Culture Shock

Culture shock is quite possibly one of the hardest and yet, best parts of traveling. It turns your whole world upside down and makes you think in a brand new way. You learn that everything you’ve ever known is not necessarily “right” but it’s not wrong either. It’s just different. And that’s ok.

The term “culture shock” is often used to describe how we deal with cultural differences in a new place and things we first notice when entering a new country or area. As many expats and long-term travelers know, there are many stages to culture shock and some don’t fully develop until after spending a few months in a new culture. It sometimes takes reflection and a realization that the emotions and exhaustion you feel can be attributed to culture shock.

I’m going to talk about 2 of the most common stages of culture shock. The first will seem obvious to those that have traveled to a place with a different culture, the second may seem a bit strange or unexpected!

The Honeymoon Phase

AKA- “Everything is great! I love this country! There are so many new things to learn/eat/speak/see and my new friends are so nice helping me try to speak the language and I love it!”

You really are learning and taking in so much at one time. Everything seems new and exciting as you experience a new way of life, new foods, a new language, new clothes, etc. You’re super happy and in noticing all the different things around you- and they are the coolest and best things ever.

On the other hand, you may also be looking at the culture immediately as “Why would they do it this way when we know it’s better like _____.” This is so different, and not in a good way. Those feeling usually pass though if you really try to integrate yourself into the culture and put yourself out there with an attitude to learn, not judge.

As these feelings fade and you get into a new routine, you’ll start to notice some different things…

The Adjustment/Exhaustion Phase

“I can’t keep up. I feel like no matter how hard I try I can’t fully grasp the language- no one can really understand me here. I feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster lately and I just want to sleep and speak English for ONE DAY!”

My first time living abroad at 15- I didn’t recognize my symptoms as culture shock. This all manifested itself at about month 3- October, my birthday, my first bus trip to a new city alone- I just thought I was having a rough time and everything started falling apart and I wasn’t good at this whole traveling thing.

What I didn’t realize what the my Spanish was actually getting quite good. I could get around on my own, have conversations and had begun making friends that 8 years later I still keep in touch with. My main problem? I was tired. My mind and spirit and body just couldn’t keep up with the pace I had set.

The thing is- I didn’t recognize this part of culture shock and didn’t know about it, until a wise exchange student counselor handed my a book that explained it all to me.

My brain was tired from translating literally everything I was saying or listening to. My body was tired from running around trying to keep up appearances. And my spirit was missing family and friends back home. I soon learned that all of this is part of the process- making the rest of the process so much smoother. Everything about life was different than what I had grown up with. I was dressing differently, acting differently in accordance with culture, and processing everything around me.

So how do you deal with it?

Sleep more. This helped in almost every aspect. I gave myself time to adjust more and learn more of the language. I found time to keep in touch with friends and family back home, but not too much- still immersing myself in my new life and culture.

I went out more. More time with friends, more travel within the country, more time with other exchange students, just keeping myself even more busy. Counter-intuitive? A little. But it works. Immerse yourself in the culture!

Acknowledge what you’re going through- it’s not totally all in your head. You’re not weird or wrong for feeling this way. It will pass, it will get better. I promise.

I’ve experience culture shock in the form of fear, anger, exhaustion, and complete joy. It’s definitely a unique experience but totally worth it to be able to travel and really learn and be a part of a new culture.

What about you? Where have you experienced the most culture shock? How do you deal?

Travel Tuesday

20 thoughts on “Culture Shock | Travel Tuesday

  1. Dano

    Love this post! My cousin recently returned from a year in China and said these very same words! That she was on a roller coaster of emotion, riding between pure excitement and homesickness. I will definitely be sharing this post with her! Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Destiny Post author

      Thanks so much for sharing! Next week I’m going to talk about Reverse Culture Shock- what you feel after returning home. It’s just as much of a wild ride!

      Reply
  2. Logan Can

    I haven’t ever been anywhere that I really experienced culture shock other than in Arizona when I stayed on an Indian reservation for a week. That was so different than anything I’ve ever known.

    Reply
    1. Destiny Post author

      Germany was one of my favorite places to travel in! I’m glad you can relate to some of what I wrote!

      Reply
      1. Destiny Post author

        I guess she thought we were done talking, haha. That’s so interesting that you lived abroad when you were young! Where did you live?

        Reply
    1. Destiny Post author

      Thank YOU for stopping by! I definitely have my times where I just want to stay home too! Like right now with a puppy curled up on my lap- doesn’t get much better than this!

      Reply
  3. Wendy@BlushandBarbells

    I’ve lived in a few different countries, but I always suffer culture shock terribly when I live in other cities in the US! I think that we’re all Americans, how different can we really be but then BAM! I am reminded that it’s a huge country with different subcultures everywhere!

    Reply
    1. Destiny Post author

      YES! I 100% agree with you! I definitely experienced culture shock going from Idaho to Atlanta but even more when I moved up to Chicago! I think it’s even worse sometimes because I wasn’t expecting it to hit but there it is!

      Reply
  4. Brooks

    I’ve never moved to a different country, but I have moved around the U.S. to know that you can experience some kind of culture shock, even within your own country. I couldn’t agree more with this post!

    Reply
    1. Destiny Post author

      I’m glad you can relate! It totally happens within your own country too! I know I went through some major culture shock moving from Atlanta to Chicago- everything is SO different!

      Reply
  5. Katie

    I guess I didn’t recognize the exhaustion phase as culture shock until now! When I studied in Mexico, I definitely felt that way. The worst for me was coming back to the US. While I had been longing for a real burger and fries for so long, I was sick (because my body wasn’t used to our food). I was dreaming in Spanish but had no one to speak it with. I wanted to put the toilet paper in the garbage can rather than the toilet. It’s the little things that become second nature that seem so weird to undo when you get back.

    Reply
  6. Destiny Post author

    SO TRUE! I felt the same way coming back from Mexico! Next week’s post is actually about the reverse culture shock that happens, so I’m going to be addressing a lot of that. Coming back from Uganda I got SO sick because my body wasn’t used to American food. It was awful until I got adjusted.

    Reply
  7. Amy@KavanahLife

    Love that you dedicate Tuesdays to travel! I always talk about how much I love to travel — and then I love coming home!! Great reminder that sleep helps stave off culture shock, as we usually don’t get enough when we are changing time zones.
    B’shalom,
    Amy

    Reply
    1. Destiny Post author

      I always coming home too. It’s a good part of travel. Time zones totally add to the whole sleep deprivation thing. I hadn’t thought about that but it’s so true!

      Reply
  8. Jade

    I love how you describe this as one of the best parts of the travel experience. I 100% agree with you. Personally, I’m an introvert so going out with people doesn’t help me. But I absolutely loved going on super long walks. It helped me get better oriented in the city I was in and it gave me time to be in my head and sort things out [like a more active version of meditating].

    Reply

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