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New country, same you: Overcome the culture shock

Oct 1, 2020

So, your plans to go overseas have been confirmed? Good luck! Whether you are emigrating, going to work abroad temporarily or even to study, a new world with new adventures, people, dishes, climates and cultures has opened up for you. However, this novelty can be frightening if you don’t approach the new country’s fads and fancies with the right attitude. Here are some tips to help you avoid the misery of culture shock.

1. Avoid comparisons

While it is unlikely that you will not compare aspects of your new destination with your homeland, it is nevertheless essential to remain open-minded about the unknown. If you continuously compare everything, even if South Africa gets the worst of it, you could go astray on paths of negativity. Tackle new adventures without any preconceived notions. After all, you are in the privileged position of getting to know a new country.

2. Get out of your comfort zone

The great unknown is a challenge. If you struggle to make new friends and tend to avoid places where people are buzzing around, it will be easy to just chat with your friends and family at home every night. However, you deprive yourself of the pleasure of meeting new people and getting to know their culture.

Heinrich, an exchange student in Belgium who could not return to South Africa due to the corona pandemic, learned it the hard way. Trapped in his dorm room and surrounded by other exchange students, he realised that he would slowly but surely lose it if he did not get out of his comfort zone. “We are social beings. I would never before have thought of hanging out with the other students in the house, but when I no longer had the option of outside contact, and my flight home was put on ice, I realised these people were most likely struggling with the same social anxiety.”

Get to know the people around you and see the possibilities of making new friends. It might make the foreign country feel a little more familiar.

3. Accept people’s unique qualities

Before any trip, it is crucial to understand that not only people’s accent and physical appearance may differ from yours, but also their beliefs, their attitudes towards foreigners and their ways of thinking. The world has a wide variety of cultures, and these cultures do not always agree. Meet new people open-minded and try not to get involved in differences of opinion on race, religion, nationality or gender. Not only can it alienate you entirely from your physical environment, but it can also lead to conflict with your temporary fellow citizens.

4. Accept the new, but don’t get rid of the old

An easy way to get over the shock of a new culture is to impress them with your own! There’s nothing better than enjoying real South African food, stories, accents, music and movies! As you adapt to your new environment, it may be a good idea to share your favourite parts of South Africa with your new friends.

Bianca, an English teacher in Thailand, took photos of her favourite South African places and decorated her new home with them. She also prepares authentic South African dishes such as breyani and chicken curry. “We are a large group of expats who live together in the same building and we regularly have cultural exchange evenings. It helps us to hold on to our own culture while getting to know even more than Thailand has to offer us.”

By celebrating the myriad of cultures that the world has to offer, you forget how unfamiliar your new reality is.

5. Make time for yourself

Make a deal with yourself: Do one thing for yourself and one thing you are afraid of every day. Take a bus ride to a part of the city you have never seen, or prepare an utterly strange dish; tackle it knowing that you can reward yourself with something familiar and comforting. This barter means that you do not overwhelm yourself with even more challenges but get used to the unknown slowly but surely.

Culture shock is inevitable and challenging. Make time for yourself, but also try to get to know the unfamiliar step by step every day.

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