Shock can be a
real trauma that some travellers have to deal with. Contributor
Stephen Wright offers some suggestions and
tips to dealing with culture shock when heading off overseas....
I’ve often thought, as a reasonably seasoned traveller,
that ‘Culture Shock’ was a term used by the kind of
traveller that went abroad and couldn’t find a McDonalds
to eat at, or the kind of traveller that stayed in three-star
hotels and found there was no porter available to carry their
luggage up to the room, or the kind of person who likes to order
things from exotic or foreign restaurants by pointing at the picture
or just saying the menu number. In other words, I thought culture
shock was one of those things that happened to travellers who
weren't really travellers.
It was only until I’d come across the term re-entry shock
(or reverse culture shock) that I actually sat up and took notice
of the whole phenomena. Re-entry shock refers to the shock to the
system a person feels when they have been away from their natural
homeland for a period of time. It’s that feeling of not belonging
in your own backyard, that feeling that you’d changed more
than your home has, and it’s brought on by the degree of change
a person has gone through when living abroad for a while. Re-entry
shock is considered to be worse than culture shock as it happens
to you in your own home, and this is exactly the feeling I had when
I arrived home after nearly a decade away. When such a feeling hits
you, you suddenly become aware of how much you are forced to change
when living abroad, and how much living abroad actually does change
you. It’s then that you realize that perhaps you too have
been subjected to culture shock in all its subtleties.
Many culture shock symptoms arise from the unexpected and the fact
that even the simplest of duties can become difficult. Things we
take for granted in daily life, such as shopping, reading the newspaper,
going to the bank, and even just socialising with other people takes
it toll on your senses (and your patience) when in another land
or dealing with another culture. Naturally the condition is worse
when you find yourself in a land where the language is entirely
alien to you, but culture shock can even occur when the language
is essentially the same and the culture only slightly different
– just ask any English speaking person who has been to Australia!
A new arrival to a place often makes comparisons about their old
home and their new one. When things aren’t going so well it’s
often easy to make such comparisons with statements like ‘Why
don’t they do it this way…?’ and ‘Back home
we do it like this…’.
The term ‘Culture Shock’ surprisingly
has been with us since the 1950’s and was coined around
the time when people started to move around the globe much more
freely. It is loosely used to describe any number of conditions
that a person might be likely to experience when in a new land,
- Sleeping disorders
- Lack of self-belief, or confidence
- Physical illness
- A sense of being overwhelmed
Of course, that is not to say that someone who
receives a dose of culture shock is likely to experience all of
those symptoms at the same time, or even at all, and culture shock
is not an immediate reaction to finding yourself in a new environment.
Indeed, there might be an incubation period where you first arrive
in a new place, where excitement and intrigue are much stronger
emotions. For a while you might not get homesick, you might not
get irritated or lose sleep, and you might not feel overwhelmed.
But after a while, once things settle down, you might find yourself
displaying any number of symptoms associated with culture shock.
Language difficulties can be a major contributor
to culture shock for new arrivals. Communication, in all its forms,
is the basis of living anywhere and when it becomes nearly impossible
to say even the simplest of things it can reduce a grown man to
tears. Even for those who undertake to learn the local language
will probably reach a plateau in their learning curve after a
while and that in itself can lead to frustration and irritation.