Teaching English abroad is a fantastic opportunity to see the world and expand your horizons. But being away from home, living in a different culture and always being surrounded by the unfamiliar – well that can take its toll. If you find yourself feeling uneasy, homesick and skulking back to McDonalds for Western-style comforts for the umpteenth time that week, you might well be suffering from culture shock. Don’t let it get you down though! To make sure you’re back out there soaking up new experiences, sights and sounds in no time at all, we’ve put together a handy guide to help you get through the tough times.
It starts with euphoria
The first thing you’ll feel when you get off the plane is euphoria. You’re in a new country, surrounded by new things and it’s simply amazing. But this natural high has its drawbacks – after all, what goes up, must come down.
The full force of culture shock
Everyone’s different and some lucky people won’t even suffer from culture shock. But those who do have reported feelings of unease, negativity and a strong desire to shy away from anything new. Homesickness becomes more pronounced too, so you might find yourself longing for your own bed or just a nice bag of Walkers crisps!
How to deal with it
Dealing with culture shock isn’t as difficult as you’d think. There are just a few simple steps you can take, both before you jet off and while you’re on your travels, which can make a big difference:
• Be prepared
Knowing what to expect goes a long way to helping you deal with new cultures and experiences. So research the country you’re going to be heading to before you go. Chat to people who are already out there teaching here on Chalkboard to get their advice about working practices and any cultural differences. It’ll help you avoid any nasty surprises and take the shock out of the transition.
• Be yourself
It sounds obvious doesn’t it? But you’d be surprised how many people travel to a new country and try to become a completely different person at the same time. There’s no denying the fact that taking on a totally new career in a totally new country will change you. Just let it happen naturally and keep hold of who you are, because if you don’t, you’ll feel even more lost.
• Take one day at a time
If you’re teaching abroad, odds on you’re going to be away for a long time. But imagining a whole year in this new, scary place can be overwhelming. So stay focused on the now and take one day at a time.
• Make friends
One of the things you’ll miss the most when you’re working abroad is your friends, so make new ones. And you know what they say – a problem shared is a problem halved. So if you’re feeling down, tell someone about it – odds on they’ll be feeling the same way.
Getting to know your destination will help make it more familiar. And that’s the ultimate cure for culture shock. Start by looking for similarities between this new culture and your own. They’re always there and it’ll make it seem less alien.
• Stay in touch
When you’re feeling homesick, there’s nothing better than talking to someone from home. So make sure you keep in close contact with everyone you’ve left behind to go on your travels. Take advantage of sites like Chalkboard to keep in touch with everyone back home and every time you’re feeling down, just remind yourself that everyone’s just a phone call away.
• Bring a little reminder
When you’re packing your bags, remember to put in a couple of little treats that remind you of home. It might be your favourite chocolate bar, a picture of your mum or that comfort blanket you’ve had since childhood – whatever it is, make space for it.
• Learn the lingo
The language barrier can put a real strain on you while you’re abroad. So you might find it useful to take a course before you go or while you’re there. Alternatively, ask the school you’re working for to set up some language lessons for you. And remember, you won’t pick it up in a day. Just because you’re struggling with a language, doesn’t mean you’re stupid – so don’t let it get you down.
Just remember, your trip will be whole lot better if you embrace new cultures, instead of clashing with them. So if all else fails, just go with the flow…
Have you ever suffered from culture shock? Post your experiences below!
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