Trying to assimilate to a new culture can be tough, but it isn’t impossible! Below are my 5 biggest tips for those studying/traveling abroad who are worried about culture shock and the subsequent adjustment period.
1. Research beforehand
Before you reach your destination, read articles, watch videos, and engage with content about the culture you will be encountering. The internet has great resources for those looking to travel or study abroad and can provide you with the basic knowledge you need to adapt to the new culture quickly and avoid potentially embarrassing situations.
2. Understand your own perceptions of “right” versus “wrong”
For people like me who spent their entire lives living in a single country, we tend to accept certain cultural norms as the “correct” way of living or thinking. However, when you go abroad, you are confronted with a new set of norms and new ways of thinking that may contradict your own ideas. Initially, we may think of these different ways of life as “strange” or “wrong”, without thinking critically and understanding that it is simply different.
3. Be willing to adapt
Different cultures have different sets of social expectations, means of communication, and cultural etiquette. Be willing to adjust yourself and your behavior to meet certain expectations and blend in. For example, in South Korea, it is heavily frowned upon to be loud in public transportation. Keeping this in mind, I tend to speak minimally on subways and buses, and when I do talk to friends, I keep my volume to a minimum.
4. Find resource in the locals, and comfort in fellow foreigners
Befriending locals is an excellent way to adjust to a new environment and learn more about it! Local friends can teach you new things, give you insight, and help you acclimate. On the other hand, making friends from a similar cultural background as you is also important. Fellow American friends can relate to you and empathize with your struggles and can also become a great source of comfort while abroad.
5. Accept that you will not understand everything
At the end of the day, there will be things you don’t fully understand, and that’s ok. While it is frustrating, it is perfectly normal. Understand that as an outsider, there are cultural elements that are inherent to you personally, therefore may be difficult to fully grasp.
Disclaimer***: Given the above tips, you do not have to partake in cultural practices that make you uncomfortable or go against your fundamental beliefs. It is important to keep an open mind, but equally important to critically engage with a new culture and critique things when necessary. Cultural practices and societal norms can be discriminatory, and it is important to acknowledge problematic things and address them appropriately.