Navigating culture shock

  • Repeat this 1000 times per day: “This is a normal process!”
  • Recognize your feelings and accept them. Express yourself: cry, laugh, journal, draw, pray, etc.
  • Take care of yourself physically    eat right, get sufficient sleep, exercise
  • Develop a daily routine
  • Enjoy other people, make new friends
  • Find ways to laugh and to enjoy yourself
  • Distract yourself from problems if possible. Don't focus on yourself.
  • Find people who will listen to your feelings and then continue to adjust.
  • Lower your expectations! Learn not to be shocked by new things but to find them interesting.
  • Keep connected to your own culture in some way. Surround yourself with familiar things at home    photos, music, etc. Celebrate a holiday with people from your own culture.
  • Identify a "cultural informant" to ask your questions and learn from.

"I expected culture shock but never believed that food would be such an exceptionally big hurdle for me to overcome. Somehow I just couldn't get used to sour cream, beet soup, or Polish sausages and was absolutely shocked to discover that peanut butter is an, as yet, unappreciated staple in Poland. In fact, peanut butter is impossible to buy, beg, borrow, or steal here."

  • Be willing to take a risk and don't fear failure.
  • Let go of thinking your culture is right and this new culture is wrong.
  • Grieve! Acknowledge losses.
  • Recognize gains.
  • Learn the language. (Refer to "Language acquisition tips')
  • Be flexible! Be willing to accept ambiguity.
  • Be patient. Give yourself grace, space, and time.
  • If problems arise, assume your share of responsibility.
  • Remember, this too shall pass!
"Peanut butter. Get me peanut butter!" I didn't mean to sob, but I think the anguished wail was heard throughout Europe. What IS it with these people; how can an entire continent be unaware of a staple food redolent with childhood memories? Who in North America does not personally know that delicious feeling of squishing her peanut butter and jelly sandwich (on white bread) and rolling it up into little balls while trying to clear the roof of her mouth so that speech is once again possible?" 

When you leave your own culture and go into another, you naturally carry with you your own background and personality, sometimes known as your "cultural baggage." Your reactions to the new culture, and how well you adjust to living in it, therefore depend upon you. Here are some suggestions to make things go a bit more smoothly.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." – Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

Listen and observe

Since there are new rules, norms, and cues that may be unfamiliar, you need to listen to words and to observe nonverbal communication carefully, trying to put them into proper context. Identify similarities and differences. Identifying similarities will be of a comfort to you. Identifying differences will allow you to pinpoint what is
causing the majority of your discomfort. How can you best deal with it?

Ask questions

You cannot assume that you always know what is going on, or that you always understand a particular communication. Most people will be very helpful if you need an explanation of something. You may need to rephrase a question, check the meaning of something, or repeat what you have said in order to be clearly understood.

Try not to misjudge

You will see many things that are different from your own culture. Don't label anything as "good" or "bad" in comparison to your own culture    most customs, habits, and ideas are simply different from the ones you're familiar with. You may also misunderstand some things    don't make judgments until you have more complete information. There is always the tendency to think our ideas are the best and most important, and that there is only one way (the American way) to do things. Every culture has its positive and negative sides.

Try to empathize

Try to put yourself in the other person's place, and look at the situation from his or her perspective. Cultural perspectives can cause very different interpretations of the same situation.

Be open and curious

Try new things, and try to find out how and why certain things are done. The more you explore, the more you'll learn.

“Most travelers content themselves with what they may chance to see from car windows, hotel verandas, or the deck of a steamer ... clinging to the battered highways like drowning sailors to a life raft.” – John Muir (1838-1914)

Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself

It is likely that you will make mistakes as you explore a new culture. In all your endeavors, try not to take yourself too seriously. A little humor goes a long way — laugh at yourself, your ideas, and ways of doing things, and trials and travails will not seem so significant after all! Laughing at your mistakes will encourage others to respond to you in a friendly manner and help you learn from them. Try, no matter how hard it is, to see something of value in every new experience and challenge you come across. Laugh now, not just later!

Try to accept frustration

Learning to function in a new culture is not easy, and it is natural to feel anxious and frustrated at times. Realize that these feelings are a normal part of the experience. Lower your expectations! Learn not to be shocked by new things but to find them interesting.

I felt that I'd had a successful day if I got to the grocery store and managed to bring home something I could cook for dinner, something that we all recognized and the family would eat." – Kathy Clear

Get involved

The more you put into the experience, the more you'll learn from it. Make an effort to meet people, form friendships, get involved in activities, and learn about the people and their culture.

Learn the language

Never confuse your ability to speak the new language with your intelligence; it is easy to feel stupid and get down on yourself, but there is no reason to. It takes everyone some time to adjust and become comfortable with a new language.

Start a journal

Write down the new things you come across every day and your reactions to your new home. Writing things down will
help you keep them in perspective and are funny to look back on!

"Traveling carries with it the curse of being at home everywhere and yet nowhere, for wherever one is, some part of one's self remains on another continent." – Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991)

Relax and watch your health

Be physically active! Walk, run, play tennis or do some other physical activity you enjoy often. You will feel better, meet
new people and keep in shape. Try to eat right and get the right amount of sleep. Enjoy other people, make new friends. Find way to laugh and enjoy yourself.

Grieve well

Take the time to acknowledge your losses    it's okay to admit the pain involved in this "new adventure." Begin to see the gifts and blessings that are yours in exchange for the pain. Let gratitude find space in your heart.


List any items that come to your mind when you think about the following:
  • Losses I've experienced in moving to this location.
  • Gains I've experienced in moving to this location.

Gains of cross-cultural adjustment
  • See things from another point of view
  • Learn new coping skills
  • Personal and spiritual growth
  • Learn new language
  • Develop new friends
  • Experience God in a new way
  • Expand the kingdom!
Begin to prepare even now
  • Eat at ethnic restaurants
  • Will you be moving to a city? Spend time in one now. Get used to subways, public transportation, etc.
  • Start cooking some of the dishes that are typical of the culture you'll be living in
  • Start learning the language now
  • Read books that describe your future culture. Books on history, religion, politics, etc. are all helpful. Books written by nationals might also be helpful in understanding the culture.
  • Listen to music from the region.
  • Explore local ethnic areas (even if not from the country you'll be moving to). General exposure to a variety of cultures will aid in your transition