The overseas culture shock

Culture shock for new immigrants abroad

“The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher” ~Chinese Proverbs

The culture shock is the feeling of anxiety and emotional discomfort that an immigrant suffers when moving to another country or another place with very different culture, customs and social environment.

No matter how open minded we are, it is hard to ignore the differences around us when we first venture out to a foreign land. Be it as a student or as an immigrant, the vast difference in culture and customs is a part of the new encounters, and the early experiences in a new land.

The surroundings and the social settings of the new country are always dramatically different for a newcomer. Everything that was once taken for granted in home country is up for recalibration: the language, the accent, the skin color, the dress code,…. Everything is new; everything is different. The system works differently; the food is not the same, the traffic laws are confusing…

All of a sudden, our own way of life, our own way of speaking and our own customs become a foreign concept in the new land. This radical change and the sudden differences everywhere in the new country is what we call the culture shock.

This culture shock basically comes from the significant differences in the cultural and social settings as one migrates from one place to another. These resulting effects of all this could include anxiety, confusion, lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do, or how to do things in a new country…. Not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate, what is accepted and not accepted etc. are the daily dilemmas.

Migrating to another country is an adventure that involves many ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ – the culture shock being one the very first ‘downs’. 🙁

The feelings and symptoms of culture shock: This mental and emotional phase of confusion from culture shock comes with many new feelings. Depending on the personal tolerance or attitude, the feelings may include:

  • Depression and sadness due to the change
  • Loneliness in the new country
  • Disgust or dislike for everything new
  • Insomnia and inability to sleep properly
  • Weakness from sleeplessness and other discomforts
  • Loss of appetite and dislike for the new food
  • Sleeping  too much or feeling lazy and tired
  • Changes in temperament and mood swings
  • Feeling vulnerable or powerless
  • Feeling lost or insecure in the new surroundings
  • Anger or short temper
  • Staying isolated or unable to mingle with the new society
  • Talking about motherland all the time – ‘Oh happy day!’ 🙂
  • Missing homeland too much

A part of journey abroad: The culture shock is not uncommon. It happens to almost everybody going to a new place, where things are done differently. Some feel it more than others. The culture shock is a part of the journey; it is a part of the transition to the new culture and the new country. All of us sooner or later realize that it is okay to be different; it is okay to recognize the differences and try to adapt to them.

There are some changes that we may love and accept faster than others:

  • The new food
  • The clean air
  • The modern facilities
  • The organized traffic and well-kept roads
  • Facilities of day-to-day life
  • Calm and quiet outdoors
  • Everybody minding their own business etc…

And then, there are some changes that take time to accept and adapt to:

  • Everybody is in a hurry, and very busy
  • New social circle
  • The language barrier
  • The first job
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • No desi bazaars
  • No nosy neighbors 🙂 etc.…

The bottom-line is ‘change’: By end of the day, the culture shock is nothing more than too many changes thrown together; everything and everybody being very different from what we are used to.
The change is a part of growing up, a part of life, a part of trying something new. The culture shock comes from exposure to many day-to-day changes combined into a one big change that ‘feels’ like a shock; that’s all! Of course, this is over-simplification, but you got the idea, right? 🙂

Regardless of how you accept the changes – quickly or slowly; how you perceive them – good or bad; just remember Shakespeare in Hamlet: “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so!”

How to overcome the Culture Shock abroad is the follow-up article with all the information to deal with the culture shock.

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