Cultural Adaptation is a Study Abroad Best Practice
Culture shock is a term used to describe the stages of the transition process experienced when you arrive in a new country for the first time. Cultural adaptation is the final stage of culture shock, when you have processed the shock of a new culture and come to feel comfortable with it. So, how do we get from the first stage of culture shock to the final stage of cultural adaptation?
Techniques That Make Cultural Adaptation Easier
Culture shock and effectively overcoming it is more about yourself, your self-awareness and your approach to challenges than about the nature of the culture you encounter. Indeed, studying abroad enables you to learn about another culture, yes, and maybe another language, but most importantly, you learn a lot about yourself!
A big help in alleviating the worst effects of culture shock is knowing what culture shock is – and being prepared for it. Counselors, educational and study abroad travel professionals refer to the “five stages” of culture shock:
The 5 Stages of Culture Shock
The Honeymoon Stage – you are very positive, curious, and anticipate new exciting experiences. You even idealize the host culture. No culture shock here!
The Crisis Phase – boredom, irritability, hostility – unduly criticizing local customs or ways of doing things -withdrawal, sleeping a lot or tiring easily, aches and pains, homesickness, these all mark the second phase of culture shock. Things are often made worse by ignorance the students encounter in the host community, or negative opinions expressed by the natives about their home country. Others may experience forms of prejudice such as racism, intolerance of foreign accents and their early attempts at English. Reality hits.
The Adjustment Stage – you feel more relaxed and develop a more balanced, objective view of your experience. Acceptance and understanding of your host culture mark a positive turnaround in your attitude.
Adaptation to multi- or bi-culturalism – there is a new sense of belonging and sensitivity to the host culture. Cultural adaptation and a feeling of security and well-being will be reflected in your work performance as well.
You feel at home, emotionally stable and are practicing new behaviors that are part of the culture.
Cultural adaptation starts to make itself felt at Stage 3, when you overcome your initial negative reactions to your new culture. Cultural adaptation will come to you a lot easier if you are flexible, have a positive attitude, resilient, curious and adventurous! These are personality traits that you will know for sure if you possess or do not after your study abroad experience.
Your mental preparation for culture shock is important for you to be able to deal with it:
- Do your research on the city, the country, the culture, so that there are some things which do not feel so strange.
- Make sure you have anticipated and met those basic needs of living comfortably and securely.
- Choose a safe environment to live in.
- Keep your budget is under control.
- Come prepared with those items that make you feel safe and secure: medications you need; emergency contact details; mementos such as photos, favorite (small or portable) objects.
- Stay in touch with home by using apps such as Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, email, whatever is out there, and there is a lot! Communicate through blogs and messages with friends and family to convey your experiences and feelings.
- BE ACTIVE – whether it is yoga or running or taking long walks, exercise to stay healthy and to keep those happy hormones activated! Exercise is as good for your mental health as your physical well-being.
- GET INVOLVED. Join a club so that you can meet local people in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Take advantage of volunteering opportunities. Put yourself in situations that are unique to that culture. You’re experiencing what other countries have to offer, which is what studying abroad is all about.
These activities will help with your cultural adaptation as you will not only be embracing your new life, you will be keeping yourself mentally and physically safe and secure. This helps lower your stress levels as you try to fit into the culture. Keep your body and your mind active and focus on the “now”. This is the perfect antidote to culture shock.
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