The start of my study abroad experience was quite abnormal. Instead of meeting new people at welcome dinners, campus orientations, and neighborhood tours, I spent the first week of my new life in Greece at the ‘Metropolitan General’. That’s right, a hospital! I had come down with a case of laryngitis that turned into a nasty lung infection that caused me to be admitted for four full days. This led to me experiencing a bad case of culture shock. Culture shock is defined by Google as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” However, sometimes it can be much more than feeling disorientated. In my case, it felt like depression. It felt like a mental fog that I couldn’t see through that caused me to retreat into myself.
Now I don’t mean to say that studying abroad isn’t a life-changing, world-opening, mind- enlightening experience: it is all of those things. But it is important to realize that you will likely face trials and tribulations, one of which could be a culture shock. My goal in writing this blog is to give you a few tools to help address culture shock and to remind you that culture shock is extremely common in the common traveler and study abroad student alike. It is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. It doesn’t make you weak. In fact, overcoming and reflecting on my experience has taught me more about myself than ever before. It has helped me grow in my self-confidence, learn to prioritize self-care and develop a more global mindset.
Here are a few personal tips on how to prevent and/or deal with culture shock:
- Get out and meet new people.
- Being alone is the worst thing you could do if you have culture shock. Start creating new connections in your new home.
- Try to see the big picture.
- You may feel quite down, but you have to realize that is not you. What you are feeling is ephemeral. It will go away.
- Talk with someone you trust
- Don’t keep your emotions bottle up. For me at least, talking verbally with someone helps me unpack and clarify the issue. Sometimes talking with people at home can help, sometimes it can make it worse. You’ll have to gauge this yourself.
- I began journaling my feelings and experiences and it was what I think ultimately helped me get out the funk. It helped me see the big picture and reflect on what was actually happening. When you go back and read what you wrote, you see your progress from an outside perspective.
- DON’T GO HOME
- Going abroad and experiencing different is so incredibly fulfilling. It has changed the course of my life for the better and I recommend it to anyone and everyone I meet. Don’t let culture shock be the reason you miss out. If anything, let it be a catalyst for growth and development.