Learning to Deal with Culture Shock
When experiencing a new country and a new culture there is a sense of euphoria. This is a wonderful place that is so different. New things constantly amaze you and make you think that moving to this part of China was the best idea you ever had. This can be the nice people, the new cultures, new foods and sights, the temples or parks, the animals and the movies, music, books, magazines, sculptures; the list is endless. However, for most people, there comes an eventual crash. Things wear on you, you come to miss home and the way of doing things that you are used to. This feeling of depression is perfectly normal for someone who has changed cultures. It is called culture shock.
The Three Stages
The three stages of culture shock have been likened to a relationship. When you meet a new person and fall in love, it is known as the Honeymoon. Everything is a new discovery. Character quirks are cute and adorable. Life and the relationship is relatively uncomplicated and fun. Things turn a little more difficult. The rocky stage is where faults start to become apparent and some of those quirks get a little annoying. If you get over the rocky stage then things settle down into a kind of normal pattern and the relationship develops into something more long term.
If you take this analogy and use it for culture shock, you will see the honeymoon period is pretty much the same. It could be called the tourist period because as a new person in a culture you feel like a tourist. The rocky section is the first bout of culture shock where the bad points of a country start to annoy you and you find it difficult to feel either accepted or to settle in, you miss things from home and the depression starts. Many people give up at this point and go home. If you get over it, then there is some kind of normalcy, there can be up and down periods, where the difference in culture might make the highs higher and the lows lower, but you get into a rhythm.
A Fourth Stage?
Some believe there is a fourth stage to this process. This is perhaps one that applies to the long term immigrant. The three stages mentioned above can be applied to all immigrants from one culture to another, but the fourth stage is for people who do not see themselves as temporary visitors, even if temporary lasts for five to ten years. The assimilation stage is where the person takes up permanent residency, citizenship or sees China as their home forever and ever. They give themselves in to the culture and hope to be accepted as part of it. A second wave of culture shock can occur at this stage if they feel rejected by that new culture.
Culture Shock Not Depression
It is important to differentiate culture shock and depression. Frustration, anxiety and home sickness are normal parts of adapting to a new culture. If these bad feelings have other underlying causes then culture shock may accentuate them, but will not cause them. Clinical depression can and will affect your body and your health and will affect your outlook on life. If this happens, it might help to see a doctor or get help from friends, family and professional advice.
Coping with Culture Shock
The internet is full of coping strategies for culture shock. There are a number of simple ones to go through. Perhaps most important, do not panic. Culture shock is normal and people will understand, especially those who travel. It also affects people at different times because honeymoon periods just last longer for some people and shorter for others. Here’s a few more ideas:
1. Before You Leave
Pack items from your home that make it home for you. Naturally nothing illegal, but keepsakes, small ornaments, photographs and even bedding. This will help China become a home from home. Also, research everything you can about your destination city, official places if you have a problem and places for non-Chinese to hang out. Look for clubs and hobbies you enjoy. Building on from this, make friends in the area. This can be done through internet penpals, expat groups and so on.
2. Be a Tourist
Enjoy the honeymoon period and explore where you are living. Get to know the streets, the shops, the people and the services. Know your way around. This is a simple coping strategy that makes a place less alien and more local. Be a tourist and go on tour buses, visit the big sights, do the tourist things and take the Thomson cruises up and down the major rivers or from Hong Kong to Shanghai. The more you see and do, the more familiar China will feel to you.
3. When in Trouble
Do not be afraid to ask for help when you get a problem. Do you have colleagues or friends who can help? Even people back home who know China or online forums with the right kind of people. If you have a culture buddy, someone who is from the same country or region as you, this will help too, as with any local friends you made.
4. Go With The Flow
This is the same as the no panic idea. Mentally adjust to your situation and tell yourself that culture shock is normal and that you need time to adjust to the negatives as well as the positives.
5. Build Your Community
Keepsakes and a nice place to live make a home, but a home area or town is build not around work and a building, but a sense of community. Work hard to build this sense with colleagues, locals, people with the same interests and culture buddies and expats. By melding it all together you will begin to feel more at home.