“Why am I looking at piece of toast?” You may be asking. I’ll get to that in the end…
Culture shock can happen to anyone in any place! How do we even know when we are going through it? And how can we overcome it?
In my personal experience, and I feel this is usually the case, culture shock happens over the course of months in an unusual setting. Going on a vacation to an exciting or luxurious place for one week will most likely not burden you with culture shock. However, studying abroad or travelling for long periods of time may prove differently. It is 100% different for everyone. There are general stages of culture shock, but there are many ways to handle it.
How do I know if I am going through culture shock???
When I first arrived in Costa Rica, I was exhilarated and overwhelmed with joy. I fell in love with the culture, the lifestyle, and the people I was meeting (fellow international students and ticos)! Scientists usually refer to this initial feeling as the honeymoon phase of culture shock. For some people, it may take a while to move from this to the next stage, for others, it may not last very long. For me, the honeymoon stage lasted a long while; I was happy and loving life.
After about 5 weeks, I’d say that I was in the transition to the second stage. I started becoming frustrated and overwhelmed with everything and everyone around me. I was angry that I could not speak the language perfectly. I was frustrated at the idea that I could not find food that was regularly available to me in the States because it did not exist here (there are no Clif bars or Lara bars in CR!!!). I started getting sick of the students I saw every day, and the same group of friends that I went somewhere new with every weekend. I wanted space, freedom, alone time. I was annoyed that my workout schedule was not as strict and regular as it was at home. I was getting sick of rice and I had 2.5 months left. Now, I am just relaying some feelings and examples of frustrations that can occur, you eventually make it to the next stage.
So you’re a bit more adjusted now. You’ve fell in love with everything, been annoyed with it, and now you’re letting yourself adjust to it. But you start to feel lost in the world. Where do you stand among everyone? How did your life bring you to this very spot. You start thinking about how big the world is, and how small you are. How have we made it this far? Our minds are demanding and complicated. But are they really? We decide what chemicals are released in our brains, shouldn’t we be able to control how we are feeling? Of course we should! With adjustment still comes the frustrations, but subdued. Not until you accept, will you fully appreciate where you are physically and mentally.
Acceptance is probably the most important part of culture shock. If you let yourself mope and be frustrated throughout most of your trip, you let a lot of things pass you by. You miss out because you’re emotionally occupied. Accepting that wherever you are is different in every aspect possible from where you came from is a sign of growth and maturity. When you let go of all the differences, and stop comparing what one place has or does not have compared to the world that you know, you let yourself become open to what it has to share.
So now that you’ve checked off that you’re going through one of those stages, and identified it as culture shock, even if its mild, let’s talk about what can be done to conquer it.
When I moved out and left for college, it was the first time I ever was leaving the house and sleeping away from home without my parents for more than a week. I was only two states south of where I was raised, but it seemed like a different world. I spent most of my freshman year being homesick and wishing I could go home. When I went home during winter break, I found that home was not the same. I came home and everything was wrong. I wasn’t back at home for good. It would never be the same. What I really wanted, but didn’t realize that I wanted, was to go back in time. It took me a long time to accept that this was a new chapter in my life, and it meant permanent change. I would probably not be spending falls or springs in my hometown for the rest of my education or longer.
So, having that occur 7 months before I prepared to depart to Costa Rica to study abroad for 4 months, I thought that culture shock would hit me hard. But it didn’t. In fact, I handled it quite well. I knew that feelings of frustration and yearning for some peace and alone time would occupy my mind, but I knew this time around that it was all in my head. Although leaving the country for many months with a different language and culture surrounding me is much different than simply moving to another state, I felt prepared rather than dispirited. I knew now that I could not let unpleasant feelings overpower the pleasant ones.
Inevitably, I went through a frustration stage in Costa Rica. Below are some things that I did to help cope with slight culture shock, and I recommend these to others who need inspiration to keep moving:
–Find a happy place: Literally a place. It can be a library, book store, restaurant, park, etc. I found a café that I enjoyed and made it my place to go, whether alone or with friends. Having a retreat, a safe place, helps ground you, and establish a homey feeling. It’s the best thing you can do when your in a place so far from home.
–Go for a walk: I love going for walks. I blow off steam, share a little love with nature. I catch my breath. I think. In San José I went on walks and tried to stay present the entire time: take in what was around me: smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and feelings. Getting lost walking downtown and finding my way back helped me learn streets and shortcuts.
–Write letters: I wrote letters to home! This really helped me because I am old-fashioned, and love corresponding through paper and pen. Not only is it nice to know that someone will eventually read it, but just writing in general helps manage feelings and let go of some steam or share great stories. I write letters to my friends, who usually text me to express their gratitude when they receive it, and my grandma, who writes back faithfully.
–Start a blog! I started a blog! Yep. Here it is. This helped me forget about all the things I was frustrated with because I was writing and sharing all my incredible adventures. Even if you don’t plan to become a famous blogger (I certainly don’t), do it for you!
So you’re probably like, why is the cover picture a piece of toast. Well, first, I love toast. I like making toast look really fancy. Not toast with butter… BORING. Toast with organic peanut butter and blueberries, toast with avocado and tomato, toast with almond butter and bananas. Good toast just reminds me of waking up early in my warm, brown house in New Jersey. And I thought, maybe by a long shot, I could make my beautiful toast relate to culture shock.
You start whole, and you take a bite. You like it, you swallow it. You take another bite. This one isn’t as good as the first. You take your third bite and you’re still not as satisfied, but you decide you’ll eat the rest. Your take the last bite of your toast and sit there. You let it digest. You let it sit, and declare yourself satisfied overall. You’re glad you gave it try, and perhaps will give it another try one day.
Whenever you are homesick just look up at the moon, because it’s
the same wherever you go