If you’re looking to start a whole new job, a whole new life, in a whole new country, it’s likely that you’ll be feeling both excited and nervous about jetting off on your adventure.

Whether you’re going to Europe, Canada, Asia or Africa, when you arrive you’ll be greeted by new customs and cultural norms, a whole new landscape, people you’ve never met before, and maybe even a different language. Whilst these things may initially seem intriguing and interesting, it is likely that most teachers who work abroad will experience a level of culture shock after their move.

After the initial delight of a new and exciting place has worn off, you may find yourself in social situations where you’re unsure of what is the right thing to do or say, or what is the right way to handle the situation. This stressful adjustment into living in your new hometown can be attributed to a very normal and very real psychological phenomenon: culture shock. 

The causes of culture shock

The joy and excitement that you will probably feel when you first arrive at your international destination is often referred to as the ‘honeymoon phase’ of your move, and can last anywhere between a couple of weeks and three months - this will differ from person to person. New cultural phenomena seem new and thrilling, but internally, your bodies will be dealing with a degree of physiological stress: lack of control, needing to quickly get to grips with new social norms, and perhaps difficulties in communicating. Trying to work how to respond properly in these situations can be exhausting and stressful - this is culture shock.  

What are the symptoms?

Some of the symptoms that you may be feeling if you’re suffering from culture shock include:

  • Homesickness
  • Sadness/loneliness/hopelessness
  • Boredom
  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Sleeping excessively
  • Overeating
  • Heightened emotional reactions
  • Drawing comparisons with your home country and your new country

How to manage these symptoms

It’s important to remember that culture shock is a completely normal reaction, and doesn’t mean that you’re not suited to working abroad. One of the best ways to manage any kind of culture shock that you may experience, is to be aware of symptoms as they appear. Once you’ve acknowledged that you are probably experiencing culture shock, a normal reaction to big changes, you can follow these steps to overcome symptoms:
  • Reassure yourself that these feelings will eventually pass once you’ve settled
  • Keep busy with activities and hobbies that you enjoy
  • Try and learn some of the local language, if it’s new to you, to help overcome any communication difficulties
  • Be kind to yourself: adjusting to new surroundings is hard work
  • Establish a daily routine that you stick to
  • Remind yourself of home when you want to, with music, TV, and food 
  • Share some of your own culture with local friends 
  • Encourage yourself - remind yourself why you chose to move abroad in the first place

Most importantly - try and enjoy yourself! You’ve got a unique opportunity to experience a brand new culture and lifestyle, whilst doing what you love: working in education.

Reverse culture shock

When the time comes for you to return back to your home country, you may also experience some level of reverse culture shock - many of the same events and circumstances that create stress when adapting to a foreign culture also create stress in the return trip. Similarly, everyone’s experience of this psychological reaction will be different, but it’s usually caused due to a change in identity: once you’ve adapted to the culture, way of life, people and routine of the foreign land you’ve moved to, you’ll identify with it. And, when the time comes to go back home, you’ll need to adapt your behaviours again. Your home land may also be different from what it was when you left, and different from what you expect it to be like. Just as with culture shock itself, the best ways to combat reverse culture shock are much the same: share your experiences and your new culture with others, establish a routine, and keep busy.

If you want any further advice or are looking for your next overseas role, get in touch with our specialist team today by clicking here.