You have a chance to live and work overseas, to get to know another culture from the inside. It’s a wonderful opportunity, but don’t be surprised if you experience at least some culture shock. “When you’re put into a new culture, even simple things can throw you. You become like a child again, unable to handle everyday life on your own,” says one expert on culture shock.
Taking a course in anthropology or intercultural studies is one effective way to reduce the effects of culture shock.
If you can, talk to an expatriate who has lived in the country for at least a few years. Someone who has been there can alert you to some of the things you’ll need to learn.
Finally, prepare yourself by learning about culture shock itself.
Someone living in a new culture typically goes through four stages of adjustment.
Initial euphoria, or the honeymoon stage, is characterized by high expectations, a focus on similarities in the new culture, and a tendency to attach positive values to any differences that are noticed.
Culture shock, the second stage, begins very suddenly. The symptoms of culture shock include homesickness; feelings of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and inadequacy; and mild paranoia.
Some people going through culture shock try to withdraw from the new culture, spending most of their free time reading novels about home, sleeping twelve hours a night, and associating only with others from their own country. Others eat and drink too much, feel irritable, and display hostility or even aggression.
A period of gradual adjustment is the third stage. Once you realize you’re adjusting, life gets more hopeful. You’ve been watching what’s been going on around you, and you’re starting to learn the patterns and underlying values of the culture. It feels more natural, and you feel comfortable.
The fourth stage, full adjustment, takes several years, and not everyone achieves it. A lot depends on people’s personalities – how rigid or how easygoing they are - and how...