04 April 2011

Coping With Culture Shock

"For most Westerners, operating abroad involves a fairly severe bout with culture shock."  I could spend this post discussing the symptoms of culture shock, as discussed in Ferraro's book Coping With Culture Shock, but I think it will be most helpful if I discuss ways to combat the culture shock.  Here are some of Ferraro's suggestions:

As soon after arrival as possible, become familiar with the immediate physical surroundings.  He suggests buying a map and studying it so as to feel more comfortable with the layout of the place where you'll be living.  I think this is excellent--I know that I struggled moving to college because I didn't know landmarks or road names, but if I could combat that by studying a map I'd be much better off.

Within the first several days of arrival, work on familiarizing yourself with some of the basic, everyday survival skills that your hosts take for granted.  These include capacities such as using the local currency, using the public transportation system, and buying stamps.  Honestly, I have a fear of public transportation because I've never in my life relied on it.  This will be one of the most challenging aspects of my time abroad, because it is not only a public transportation system but a foreign one.  However, I have hope because many, many people use public transportation and they get along just fine.  I think that as long as I am humble enough to ask questions when I don't know what to do, there will be kind people around who will help me.

Understand that flexibility and resourcefulness are key elements to adapting to a new culture.  I should accept now, or just try to be okay with the idea, that most of the things I plan and try to carry out will not work according to schedule.  When problems and conflicts arise, I need to be prepared with resources and patience to cope with them.  Hopefully, my friend Norbu will be willing to help me with those things that will seem impossible to work with.

Be adventurous.  You know how you have different aspects to your personality?  Well, I certainly have an adventurous streak or I wouldn't have ordered ceviche knowing that it was uncooked fish.  I'll just have to nourish that streak and play down that part of me that refuses anything that is not both comfortable and familiar.

I loved this quote from Ferraro:
The anxiety resulting from trying to operate in a different environment is normal.  Give yourself permission to feel frustration, homesickness, or irritability.  Eventually, you will work through these symptoms and emerge with a much richer appreciation of the host culture.
The idea that culture shock enhances the international experience is a lovely one.  They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so as long as I can cope with the symptoms (unexplainable fits of weeping, anyone?) I will be better for it.

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