Teaching and living abroad can be the most incredible experience of your life or it can be the worst, depending on how you deal with the difficulties of living and working in a foreign country. Adjusting to a new country and a new culture can be trying, especially when we aren’t willing to adapt or be accepting of a culture that is completely different to our own. This can lead to feelings of depression, loneliness, isolation and complaining.
The best way to start getting yourself accustomed to an exotic culture is to get involved. Get to know your new culture. Go out and experience life. Make new friends. Live. Wonder. Explore. I love going somewhere quiet, like a park, and watching how everyone interacts. I also get great pleasure out of walking. I love putting on my headphones and walking for hours. I like the feeling of being lost in a great sea of humanity. There’s no better way to be completely on level to observe, grow and learn firsthand. I never once made an excuse for myself to stay at home and watch TV.
Observe what you really like about your new culture. Don’t focus on the negatives. We all make comparisons. Comparing your new home to back home is only natural. Don’t get into the habit of looking at everything in a negative light.
It’s important to remember that there is nothing wrong with culture shock. Everyone gets it and everyone deals with it differently. The stress of starting a new job, living in a new country, trying to make new friends, navigating unfamiliar terrain and an inability to speak the language can all lead to culture shock. Everyday tasks such as using the phone, taking the bus or grocery shopping can become frustrating and difficult.
Some people will admit they are suffering from it, others might not even realise they are going through it and some will flat out deny they are having any problems at all. It’s how we deal with culture shock that allows us to let ourselves go and immerse ourselves in a foreign culture.
There will be days when you hate your new home. I’ve had days where I hate China. I’ve had days where I hate Taiwan. I’ve also had days where I’ve cried and haven’t wanted to get out of bed. And you know what? It’s perfectly OK to feel like this. We all do. Try and remember that it will pass. Here are a few tried and true techniques to get you through those dog days.
1. Admit you have culture shock. Don’t try and deal with it alone. Try talking to a friend, preferably one who has already been down that road. Share your experiences. Part of dealing with culture shock is realising that you’re not alone.
2. Hang out with your foreign friends. It’s OK to admit that you are having a bad day. Organize activities like potlucks, game nights, bowling nights or movie nights to help yourself and your friends get their minds off the pressures of everyday life.
3. Watch English movies and eat comfort foods. It’s amazing what a simple Western meal like Mac and Cheese can do for you when you’re feeling down. I stock up on my comfort food while I’m at home or I’ll have my family send me my favorites.
4. Exercise. Going for a walk or getting out of the house can really boost your energy levels and give you a kick in the pants when you need it.
5. Keep a journal. I can’t stress how much better you’ll feel after you’ve taken the time to release. Writing is very therapeutic and it will prove invaluable when you want to look back and reflect on your first few months abroad.