Long-term travel or living in a foreign country is a life changing experience. For anyone who has experienced this, you know the feeling of preparing for the unknown; wondering what life will be like, and what to expect. Do not be misled, though; culture shock happens to even the most seasoned traveler. The quicker you acclimate and integrate with your surroundings, the faster and easier it will be to transition into daily life and start enjoying your time abroad.
Understanding the culture before you leave is more than just being aware of which hand gestures are rude. Acknowledging and accepting local customs and norms before you arrive will ease your transition. Remember that some habits you encounter and what is considered acceptable treatment of others may differ from those to which you are accustomed. Accepting rather than resenting the local mores will reduce a lot of the friction with your transition.
Initially, even figuring out the most mundane of everyday daily tasks is new and exciting, or nerve wracking. After a time you may experience a low mental period or culture shock after the "honeymoon period." Not to worry, you can anticipate and plan for "The Dip."
Now that you know what to look for, here are some tactics for dealing with the dip.
1. Create social networks
Social networks are the backbone of your stability overseas. Tap into your social networks back home, but also look for ways to build new networks locally; whether finding expat groups, running groups or special interest groups, having a social interaction will significantly reduce the impact of "The Dip."
2. Get active:
Physical activity is particularly useful when fighting jetlag upon arrival. However, getting moving can also help break out of a funk if you happen to fall into one. Working out is a great stress reducer, it helps you get to sleep at night, which spins into feeling more rested, which leads to feeling better in general and ultimately, getting you back into your regular routine.
3. Speaking of routines…
Re-engage in those habits you had back home: Just being overseas does not make you a different person. People are creatures of habit, and by re-creating your habits from back home, you will build a sense a normalcy in your new surroundings. Some examples: If you generally set aside Wednesday mornings to write letters or read in cafes, then make that part of your routine overseas. If Sundays were the weekly phone call back home, then schedule a Skype session with whoever can accommodate the time zone difference.
Get onboard with the local routine:
What do the locals do? Whether it’s visiting the park on the weekends, playing soccer in the evenings or people watching, participating in the local social scene is not only fun, but also an excellent way to acclimate to culture shock.
Create a new routine: Make the most of your new digs by establishing a new routine that you can call your own.
4. Learn some lingo:
Knowing some phrases will help you get around and acclimate more quickly – plus, everyone loves it when you show some effort in learning about their culture and language. One of my favorite phrases: No worries/no problem. This one phrase gets the most raised eyebrows and smiles than anything else I have used.
The faster you acclimate to a new culture the better, especially if you are immersed in it for an extended period. Having an open mind, reading up on local customs and having some key phrases in your back pocket will go a long way towards creating inroads to incredible experiences you may not have had if you stayed on the sidelines. While you are traveling, it also pays to protect your trip with travel insurance; in the event of an unforeseen complication while you’re abroad, having someone in your corner to get your trip back on track is an invaluable peace of mind.
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Former travel disaster, now a serial traveler, travel safety advisor, and author of The Travel Safety Handbook. Poster boy for learning from others mistakes. Now I provide travelers with the tools to focus on their travel goals; I advise business travelers,prepare study-abroad students and equip families with the knowledge to return home successful with memories that will last a lifetime, not horror stories. Follow JC on his blog at Travel-Safer.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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