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Face The Dragon – How To Cope With Culture Shock

Culture shock is a very common experience when a person arrives in a foreign country for the first time. It can be defined as a situation where a person feels anxious, insecure and disoriented when they are living in an unfamiliar environment.

The social customs, behaviors and values the person was used to in their country of origin are no longer present which can be quite overwhelming!  Although culture shock is common, you have to overcome these feelings by allowing yourself to be open to change through making new friends with the people around you at work, in your neighborhood, or any other place in your new home.

By putting yourself in situations where you are ready to learn from people of a different culture, you can speed up your cultural integration process and put your culture shock behind you. In time you will feel less confused and anxious, however you must open your mind to new ways of life, even if you feel uncomfortable.

Face the dragon is a symbol of China’s culture, tradition, people, and the work environment. You can use this symbol as a reminder to stay strong when you feel overwhelmed. The following are some tips to help you with any culture shock you may experience, in China or in any country.

Be Open Minded

One point that keeps a lot of people stuck in culture shock is the fact that many people have a hard time being  open-minded about different beliefs, customs, behaviors, cultures, and values.  The problem is that being close-minded prevents you from understanding the people around you and can make you feel like an outsider. Try to be interested in other people’s values, history, beliefs, customs, and anything else pertaining to their identity. This will help you better understand the reasons behind your cultural differences and the people in your new environment. In time you will feel at home in your unfamiliar surroundings. Who knows, maybe you will come to like aspects of the new culture more than your culture of origin and permanently adopt aspects into your life.

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Understand the social conduct

People have different social conducts that come about as a result of their surroundings. It is therefore very important to understand the different behaviors of people in your new environment before arrival. A lack of understanding of how people in the foreign country expect you to behave might result in misunderstandings and might make it hard for you to make friends. For example, native Chinese often behave very differently when compared to Westerners. In China there is different etiquette which will become more apparent the longer you are in China.

Chinese are often deeply rooted to their cultural traditions compared to Westerners who often have more flexible cultures. It is therefore very important to do your research in order to avoid (or at least decrease) offensive cultural mistakes. Know how you are expected to offer greetings, approach someone, and behave in different settings. A great way to learn is to ask questions and observe closely.

Learn their Language

One problem a lot of people face when they are in a foreign country is the language barrier. English is a global language, however that does not mean you should not learn the local language. If you have secured an English teaching job in China for example, you will not have a hard time teaching English in the school, however outside the classroom you will meet a lot of people who might need your assistance or vice versa. In such situations, knowing a little of their language like how to say hi may come in handy. Speaking a foreign language shows you are interested in their culture and by doing so, you will have created a good rapport. Do not feel the need to obsess about the language but make an effort to know the basics. It will make interactions with different people in the foreign country easier and help you adjust to the culture. If you learn to communicate past simple conversations, you can learn much more about the culture.

Avoid taking you cultural knowledge lightly

Culture is something that is very complicated to fully understand in a short time. A psychologist by the name Geert Hofstede compared culture to an onion; you have to go one layer after the other in order to fully understand the content. Some foreigners do some light cultural research and hangout with the people in the foreign country, then assume they know all there is to know about the local culture. These foreigner sometimes find themselves in situations where they try to explain different cultural beliefs, leading to sometimes uncomfortable situations because they might find themselves explaining something wrong.

When in a new country, it is important to avoid feeling like you know everything about the people around you because there is always something new to learn. It is therefore important to keep yourself in a mindset where you know that the culture more complicated than you think. Just go with the flow and learn as much as you can by asking lots of questions. If you don’t know something, don’t pretend to know.

Be interested

When faced with culture shock, you have a choice. You can either let it overwhelm you, or you can make an effort to be interested in the lives of those around you. For instance if there is a festival, go visit it with a friend. This will enable you to have fun and interact with the people around you. Try reading the local newspaper to keep you informed about the current events in the country. When you are talking to a local, you can ask them about their opinion on something you read to help you better understand the country.

At your workplace, find that person who you think would be a great person to know and looks easy to approach.  A friend (or many friends!) in a new country is very important because they help you feel comfortable and teach you some of the things you are expected to know to get by in the new country. They also help you focus less on culture shock because will be too busy having fun and learning at an accelerated pace.

Have a sense of humor

When trying to understand all that is encompassed in face the dragon it is very important not to take it too seriously. The one thing you do not want to do is put yourself in a situation where you are over-analyzing every situation. For example, if you find yourself in a cultural event in the foreign country and someone asks you something you do not know about the culture, it is important to be honest that you do not know. Also laugh at yourself when you give an obviously funny and wrong answer.

This will make it possible for the rest of the people around you to educate you and take some humor from the situation. It will not only make things less awkward for you but will also enable you to make friends faster. If you are always assuming that the people around you are out to make fun of you or judge you, you will not be able to have fun and this might take away from the joy you are expected to have when in a new country. Always remember that it’s never that serious and make each day an opportunity to learn something new about your surroundings.

Communicate with family and friends but not too much

When in a new country, it might help to talk to your family a few times a week especially when you are still very new to the surroundings. Talking to your loved ones may make you feel more encouraged and less lonely however, it is important not to overdo it. You can find yourself in a situation where talking to them is a daily routine and this might make it difficult for you to adapt to your new surroundings or make you feel homesick. Try to focus on enjoying your new surroundings in the beginning and making adjustments to the culture.

Visit Different Places

Try  to visit different places when you have made a friend or an acquaintance because they probably know the area better and will give you an amazing tour of some of the best places in their country. Additionally, it will deepen your friendship or could turn an acquaintance into a friend. Avoid comparing your new surroundings to your own country too much, unless it is in the mindset of it not being better or worse, just different. You will be surprised by how much travel you can do on the weekends when you are not working. Seeing places outside of the city or town where you work will also help you gain a better understanding of the country.

Share your Culture

When you are living in a new country for work, it is very important not to allow the need to feel accepted make you lose your own beliefs, values and cultural ways. Although you should make an effort to understand the people in your surroundings, it is important to share your culture as well. For example, you could bring some traditional food to work for your coworkers. This will help them better understand your culture just as you are trying to understand their culture.

With these tips you can confidently face the dragon. Just remember that culture shock is a normal feeling and that you are not alone. The level of culture shock you will experience largely depends on your ability to prepare and adapt to the new culture. If you move to a new country with the attitude that you can adapt, you  surely will.

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Face The Dragon – How To Cope With Culture Shock
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7 Comments
  • Stephanie
    Reply

    Moving to a different country would definitely pose a series of difficulties, but I am glad to read an article that points out how to prepare for the change. The culture shock will for sure be there, but it you go in with an open mind and positive attitude it will be OK.

  • Raymond Hall
    Reply

    The differences between people around the world is exactly why I love travelling so much. I think differences should be embraced and not hidden. Living amongst different people with a different culture is one of the most exciting things you can do. Having said that, I have heard Chinese social etiquette is very rigid, and there can be innocent mistakes made by uninformed westerners, so it’s always a good idea to pay attention and be informed.

  • Reply

    A very nicely and wisely written article. Culture shock is a big thing, especially if you are traveling alone. My young nephew traveled to the far east of our country and returned soon stating that he could not cope with it. He has now grown up and has learned German and traveled to Germany alone to study.
    China is a beautiful country with a rich culture and the only problem would be food and language for vegetarians like me. The tips given above will certainly be useful to all. Tweeting it.

  • Giovanni
    Reply

    Being open minded and taking it with some humor seems indeed the correct way to face the inevitable culture shock. Can’t wait to try it on my own skin

  • Stella_va
    Reply

    Great ideas indeed! But what about the ‘cultural shock’ that you get when you return home? 🙂

  • Hassan S
    Reply

    An insightful article indeed. It is of great importance to understand,appreciate and accommodate the Chinese culture while in China. i hope to quickly learn and adopt the culture as well as share my very own.