By Emma Buchman
The only topic that is preached to travelers more than packing is culture shock. We hear so much about culture shock either from our parents or our host family/instituion that sometimes it’s the last thing we want to hear about. It’s something that everyone who’s traveling should think about, even if you don’t think it will affect you.
Unlike my semester abroad in France, I was very aware of how badly culture shock could affect me, and it was wise that I did. Shock met depression to create a Molotov cocktail of adjustment issues. I was lucky to have my program leaders help me, even if they did so inadvertently. During our program orientation, our leaders showed us the definition of culture shock from the Encyclopedia Britannica. It not only gave the standard meaning of the phrase, but it also gave some new information that really helped me to process what I was feeling. It stated that when you’re experiencing culture shock, little things that would not normally bother you seem bigger than they are and can easily upset you. That was definitely true for me, and realizing that this was happening helped me keep my emotions in check before snapping at people who hadn’t truly done anything wrong. It also encouraged me to do things that would make me happy. Just as little things can make you upset, they can just as easily make you happy, and you have to hold onto those moments or actions.
Sometimes though, those moments are not enough. There are times when all you want to do is mope around. That’s normal, and sometimes it feels good to mope, sit in bed, and watch Netflix. You shouldn’t feel bad if you need to do this once in a blue moon in order to move on and feel better. You cannot, however, let it define your whole time abroad. If it does, you should seek someone out to talk with about what you’re feeling, even if you feel embarrassed.
You also have to be aware of how your typical emotional state will exacerbate or alleviate any culture shock you might experience. For example, two weeks before leaving I discovered that my dog had a mass on her stomach that was the size of a golf ball. I had to take her to her surgery and essentially acted as a nurse for her. I was worried about her when I left and knew that this would have an effect on me once I arrived in London.
For me, London is special enough that I want to work through this culture shock. For you it might be Paris, Quito, or Hong Kong. Even if the location is not enough, the experience will be worth it. The people I’ve met here are genuinely good people. Sometimes you may not have the fortune to be automatically placed with people who bring you up, or who actually care when it’s evident that you’re upset. As I said, everything becomes harder when you’re sad, but you have to be willing to go out and surround yourself with people who will be kind to you. You were brave enough to leave home and dive completely into a new culture. You can make some new friends too. Also, chances are you’ll have great program leaders who will help you make new friends and adjust to the culture.
All of these tips are effective, in my humble opinion. If you want a surefire way to get over your culture shock, you can just meet Benedict Cumberbatch. Then, you can suffer from just regular shock, and that can always be solved with a shock blanket given to you by a friendly EMT.