EVS Diary

Culture shock

So after 4 months in Slovakia (almost 5, time’s flying), I find myself in a different stage of my stay or to say it differently, of my culture shock. I first heard about this phenomenon in Canada, on my very first meeting at the university. Culture shock is a multiphase phenomenon defined as following by the Oxford dictionnay: feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

So what are the phases? The first phase is called the honeymoon. Like any new experience, there’s a feeling of euphoria when you arrive to a new country and you’re in awe of the differences you see and experience. You’re excited by the new food and the new culture in general. You only see the good side of things. However this period of romantic love with your new country doesn’t last.

After a couple of months, one immigrant (don’t deny it, you’re an immigrant no matter the fact that you’re white) enters the negociation phase. You’ll start to focus only on the difference between your own and new country. You feel lonely and homesick. The fact that you don’t belong here is hitting you like a boomerang. You feel frustrated by the language barrier and you might tend to reject in block the new culture, hanging out only with foreigners like you. This period is the hardest but eventually you’ll enter in the third phase: the adjustment. You come around, you are adapting to your new envronment, you developped a routine and above all a better understanding of the new culture. So everything isn’t new anymore, now you know better your new country and know what to expect in most situations. You feel more confident and better able to cope with any problems that may arise. You no longer feel isolated and instead you’re able to look at the world around you and appreciate where you are.

The last phase of the culture shock is called mastery. Finally you feel at home in your new country and have fully integrated in your new environment. You adopt new traits of your host culture without forgetting your home one either. You just develop your own mix between what you keep or not from both cultures. You are bicultural!

When moving to a new country, the culture shock is inevitable. However, order and timing of different phases, feelings and behaviour can differ from one person to another. Be aware that some physical and psychological symptoms can emmerge : excessive need for sleep or inability to sleep, loss of apetite or overeating, fatigue, abuse of drugs or alcohol, mood swings, homesickness, lack of concentration, feelings of anger, depression, vulnerability,… But don’t worry, it’s normal, you’re just adjusting to this whole new situation. And don’t forget that you will grow from this experience, getting to know yourself way better and developping new skills or finding resources in yourself you couldn’t have imagined before. Just don’t give up!

While writing this article, I was wondering what phase I was going through currently. And as I was feeling down this week end with no will to do anything except hiding in my appartment, I guess I’m in negotiation phase. Everyone goes through it at a moment or another while living away from home. But there are some tricks to deal with culture shock:

  • Make friends ! I know it can be easier to say than to do, but you need to fight the urge to retreat. So go to couchsurfing meetings, join a club, do sports, learn a new language, volunteer, anything that will make you meet new people and feel like part of a community.
  • Get to know the place you are living in. You can start that before landing in your new home. Buy a guidebook, read news about your new country, learn about customs and culture. You will feel more prepared for the unknown ! Once you’re there, be a tourist, at first, it’s what you are! Getting to know your new environment is the first step to feel at home in your new city.
  • Keep in touch with home : talk to your friends and family back home. Now with facebook, skype and other whatsapp you have no excuse. And they know you better than your new friends so it’s really important that you talk to people you knew before.
  • Go back to your own culture from time to time : eating your favorite food, speaking your mother tongue with other expats, reading newspapers from home,… It’s relaxing and you need it from time to time. But don’t do it too much, don’t be afraid of your new culture, it can only enrich yourself!
  • Be curious, open minded, positive, patient. Yeah, at times it’s hard and it’s possible that you will go through hard time in your stay abroad, but negative thinking is not helping. And you will learn so much from this experience. Even from the bad times. Just give you some time to cope with all this novelty!


Claire Billon-Grand

Photo : blog.peertransfer.com

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