You Really Eat Those? How to Tackle Your Culture Shock

By Laurel Brown
Special to

One of the biggest risks of an overseas move is culture shock. What will you do if you get lost and can’t speak the language? How do you get over a craving for a certain type of food? What do you do when you feel out of place but can't put your finger on just why?

When faced with any new environment, everyone faces some degree of culture shock and the bouts of depression that come with it. The key is to develop strategies to deal with it before you face it, especially if you are going overseas for an extended period of time.

The first step for dealing with culture shock is recognizing it. You might be in a place where everybody speaks a different language, maybe you’re of a different ethnicity.

Culture shock does not have to be a bad thing, and recognizing that can help you handle it. “Culture shock is a necessary part of adaptation," says Patricia Linderman, co-author of the book The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad. If you do not feel culture shock at some point, she says, you are not adapting to your new reality.

Tactics to cope with culture shock vary from person to person.

You could feel better if you can talk to another person who has had a similar experience. Find some expatriates from your country and swap “war stories”.. Write or email others who have traveled – just knowing others have survived culture shock can make it easier to deal with.

Alternatively, spend some time alone. Stay home, read a book, exercise alone. Or look for a location that feels comfortable to you: restaurants that serve familiar food, or movie theaters showing films from home.

But the longer-term fix is to learn about the culture that is “shocking” you. At the root of all culture shock is unfamiliarity. Once you begin to learn about a new culture and its people, things get easier.

Linderman suggests “taking things slowly, gradually venturing out to meet people and explore.” Try to make friends with native co-workers and acquaintances; read up on the history and traditions of your location; visit important local landmarks and destinations; try out different dishes and hope to find a favorite among them.

Culture shock is an unavoidable part of an overseas relocation. It is, however, also part of a successful transition to a new environment. If you work on ways to ease the severity and shorten the length of the culture shock, you will find that you begin to feel more comfortable.