Understanding Culture Shock: Effective Strategies for Overcoming It

You’ve learned what culture shock is (if not, read here!)… now you must learn how to conquer it! 💪

But how? 🤔

Here are some tips to help you get through culture shock! Let’s do this! 👊

Tip #1: Research your destination before going 🤓

Learn about your destination and its people– their lifestyle, traditions, customs, etc. Try to understand how and why the locals act the way they do. This way, you’re somewhat prepared and the cultural differences won’t be as shocking.

Tip #2: Be mentally prepared 🧠

Moving to a new location is a big deal, so it’s good to be aware of the process of culture shock. This helps you have grace for yourself because you know it’s all a part of the journey of adapting. 

Tip #3: Manage your expectations 😅

Now that you’re aware of experiencing some culture shock, you need to manage your expectations.

First, explore the new culture with an open mind, lowering your expectations and adopting the willpower to learn. Try to understand the world the way your host culture does and make no judgments. The more open you are to understanding the new culture, the easier it’ll be. This way, the comparison between your culture and the new one decreases, and you won’t be as frustrated when facing the unfamiliar.

Second, practice self-empathy. You’ll have moved to a new culture, where the food, customs, and education system, among other things, are different from your home. You’ll experience challenges and it’ll take some time to adapt. So don’t blame yourself or get anxious about struggling with something.

Remember, you’re adapting and it takes time!

And third, know what’s expected of you. Talk to people who know the new culture. For example, chat with your professors, advisors, and friends about what’s expected at your university. This will help you learn how to handle classes and other areas of your life appropriately. 

Tip #4: Learn the local language 💬

Learning the local language is essential for good communication. People usually learn the basics of the local language or English (since it’s the universal language) before leaving for another country. But the most important thing is to keep learning while in the new culture. This requires freeing yourself of shame and being engaged. 

Let me share a personal story…

I arrived in the U.S. with very beginner-level English. I didn’t understand what people were saying and had difficulty formulating sentences and speaking. I used to hide behind my husband, asking him to translate what people said and then speak for me. I felt ashamed of myself for not knowing the language.

But one day, I realized I was missing the opportunity to learn due to my shame. That’s when I decided to engage in conversation, asking for definitions, spellings, and pronunciations of words. If I didn’t understand, I kept asking the person to repeat themselves.

It’s been two years since I’ve lived in the States; I can’t say I’m proficient in English, but I’m much better compared to when I started. My perspective has changed, counting every moment as a chance to learn more. 

So please, let go of your shame and embrace the opportunity to learn the new language.

You can team up with native friends to learn the language or sign up for an IFI English conversation partner. 🤗

Tip #5: Keep in touch with your people from back home 🤳

One of the symptoms of the rejection stage is feeling homesick and lost.

Therefore, don’t lose contact with family and friends from your homeland. This will give you someone to turn to in challenging times that will understand.

Also, you can do things you used to do in your homeland, like eating your favorite foods, listening to your favorite music, doing a specific hobby, etc.– you name it! These activities have the power to make you feel at home. 

Tip #6: Take care of yourself 🧘

Oftentimes, people forget to take care of themselves amidst culture shock.

In the honeymoon stage, the tendency for people is to experience everything all at once, which can turn into an overwhelming season. Now in the rejection stage, the person is so sad and confused that he/she doesn’t even think about taking care of him/herself.

The bottom line is: take care of yourself!

This means: eat well, exercise, and get good sleep. Find healthy habits to relieve stress.

I say this because these practices have helped me a lot, especially exercise. There was a moment in my rejection stage where I was really depressed. Since I knew exercise released feel-good hormones, I disciplined myself to go to my condo’s gym every day. Slowly but surely, I felt energized and in a better mood.

One more thing I’ll say about pursuing health is this: it’s all about finding a balance. For example, you want a healthy academic AND social life. Focusing on only one thing will get you off-balance. 

Alongside the physical, your emotional health must also be cared for. It’s important to pause and think about what you’re thinking, for our emotions come from our thoughts. If you’re having negative emotions, your thoughts are probably not the best.

Here are some tips to manage your thoughts:

  • avoid thinking about how good your life was back home; this will only increase homesickness
  • avoid focusing on what’s missing; these thoughts make you look negatively at the new culture
  • avoid comparison with other students; each person experiences culture shock differently
  • focus on the positive aspects of the new culture; remember that discovering and learning new things was your dream

And last, but not least:

If you realize the symptoms of culture shock (among them homesickness, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, appetite and/or sleep changes, etc.) are constant and intense, seek support!

IFI has a prayerline, where you can call and speak/pray confidentially with a volunteer.

There are also plenty of counseling services around, either for in-person or telehealth sessions, and several hotline numbers, such as the suicide/crisis prevention number: (988).

Remember– it’s okay not to be okay and your mental health matters. 💚

Tip #7: Integrate into community 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦

Remember the rejection stage, where one of the behaviors is to isolate yourself? 

Review time!

This is why this tip exists! We want to go against this behavior and develop deep relationships. You’ll probably have to step out of your comfort zone, but it’ll be worth it– I promise!

So get involved in the new culture in some way, whether it be art, music, sports, travel, church, volunteering, IFI events, etc.

In addition to learning the local language, making friends and developing relationships will help you not feel like an outsider. By doing this, you’ll be able to understand the culture and overcome cultural differences faster.

Push yourself to start conversations with people.

Celebrate your home by talking about your culture and take the time to learn about their cultures, too.

And let me give you a tip before you go out there: no matter how outgoing an American person is, they’ll most likely respect your personal space, so you might have to take the first step to start the conversation!

Tip #8: Ask where and how 🙋‍♂️

To make your life easier in this adaptation process, ask people familiar with the new culture where to go and how to do things.

For example: where’s the best place to get groceries, where’s a trusted mechanic to fix my car, how to get a health plan, how to make a bank account, etc. 

Tip #9: Travel in the country to see new places ✈️

In addition to being fun, it’s a great way to experience a new culture!

Tip #10: Keep a diary 📝

Writing about your experience in a new culture will help you process your thoughts and help you remember the highlights.

Tip #11: Be patient 🙏

The process of culture shock is natural, so please be patient– especially with yourself!

Final Thoughts 💭

Remember, only you can overcome the culture shock process.

Let me tell you one more personal story…

While going through culture shock, I realized I was playing the victim.

I couldn’t find a job and was very angry; despite having other things to do, that was my only focus. I tried to blame things and people to explain why I was stuck, including my husband!

At last, I came to realize my responsibility in adapting to the new culture. I couldn’t change my work situation, but I could do my best with what I had.

So I started exercising, taking better care of my house and myself, and helping my husband. At the time, I also participated in ISEED training. I dedicated myself to it, serving students and helping people, among other things. 

I believe you have many resources to help you overcome culture shock, so take action! Think about what you have and engage!

I hope these tips help you in your process of adapting to a new culture. 💫

Let us know if these tips were helpful/if you have any other tips in the comment section below! 👇

And if you’re going through a hard time, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You’re not alone, friend; we’re here to support you.

Tis all, for now. See you in the next post! 😘

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