Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Navigating Cultural Adjustment

Simply defined, culture shock is the tension that results when there is a conflict and/or change involving core values. It is a normal response that can arise when you explore beyond the boundaries of you own culture and bump into differences that 1) may not make sense to your way of thinking and behaving and/or 2) cause you to feel an unfamiliar sense of tension or vulnerability.

Common symptoms of culture shock include:

• A sense of sadness, loneliness or melancholy

• Preoccupation with health

• Aches, pains and allergies 

• Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little

• Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable or powerless

• Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others.

• Identifying with home culture or idealizing home culture.

• A sense of the loss of identity.

• A feeling of being overwhelmed as you try hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country.

• Unable to solve simple problems.

• Lack of confidence.

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, it is a normal by-product in the process of making a cultural adjustment. Be patient with yourself - and your host culture. Suspend criticism and judgement and get curious instead about why certain practices exist in your new culture.

Allowing yourself to be changed as you navigate your host culture can result in developing new practices, new strengths and a new confidence. If the tension that occurs normally in the process begins to get in the way of a successful integration, seek support to guide you through to an outcome for which you can be proud. 

As your time abroad comes to an end, you are likely to realize that you discovered as much (or more!) about yourself as you did about the culture which you called 'home' for a time...and you take back with you one of the richest experiences of your life.  

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