What is Culture Shock?Edit
Culture shock comes directly from an initial lack of understanding of — and an inability to fit into — your new culture. No matter where you end up, your new home will inevitably be very different from your old one, and culture shock will hit you one way or another. And it can be stressful to realize that what you expected of your host country is not the same as the reality that greets you when you arrive.
4 stages of Culture ShockEdit
As you can already guess from the name, in this stage you feel excited about your adventure. The newness and differences are still a novelty. The day-to-day difficulties haven't set in yet.
Most people feel energetic and enthusiastic during this stage and trying new things give you and exhilarating "rush!".
After some time (usually three months but sometimes sooner or later, depending on the individual), reality sets in as you try to make a new home for yourself and differences between the old and new culture become acutely apparent. You try to communicate in a new language you might not know yet. You're not sure how to interact with people, where to find things and even mundane tasks like going to the bank may seem like climbing Mt.Everest.
In this stage many different feelings and emotions may arise, from confusion, anxiety, homesickness, and loneliness, to being unsure of yourself, feeling less competent than in your home country, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling angry for being in this situation.
After some time (usually 6 – 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. You have settled into school life, your new neighborhood becomes more familiar, you know where to get all your basic things, and you are able to communicate better. Your sense of self comes back and you even return to the excitement of the "Honeymoon Stage" more often.
Congratulations, you've made it through the tunnel! Your life resumes with a familiar pattern and are able to participate fully and comfortably in the host culture. It doesn't mean you've totally converted and have been assimilated into the Borg (sorry lame Star Trek reference). Rather you've developed real coping mechanisms for most situations you are likely to encounter and can readily develop a realistic understanding of the similarities and differences between your own culture and the new culture. By comparing both, you have the unique opportunity to learn about two different approaches and can decide what fits best for you.
Dealing with Culture ShockEdit
The first thing you should do is expect to feel culture shock, even before you leave home. Expect to be surprised by the people you meet and the customs that fill their lives. Expect to hate some of them and be envious of many others. Most of all, expect to feel like for the first time in your life, everything around you is completely new, strange, and unfamiliar—and you aren’t going back home in a week.
Do your research before you leave home. Educate yourself about the place you’re visiting through whatever means possible. The more you understand your new home before you get there, the smoother your adjustment will be. If you’re visiting a country where English is not the primary spoken language, practice and study the local language as much as you can before getting on the plane. The ability to freely communicate with the people around you will help you adjust all the more quickly.
As you try to adjust to your new place, allow yourself two things: The time and the permission to mess up. It’s simply not possible to jump cold into a new culture and fit right in, no matter how much research you’ve done or how hard you try. Take the time to observe how people around you carry out their day-to-day lives and see how you might need or want to better fit in. You don’t have to imitate everything you see around you, nor should you want to. That said, the more you adapt to the local way of life, the more you'll enjoy your experience. Nobody likes an arrogant foreigner who doesn’t seem to care about local customs or standards.
Don't stay isolated! Please remember – this is a stage and you will get through it! It's helpful to first acknowledge your feelings and then become pro-active. Participate in your new environment. Start out with small steps, as you feel comfortable. Talk to friends, family and fellow JETs in the same situation, and see what help is available to you. Slowly but surely you will build a new support system and move into the next stage.
KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR! Always. You may very well find yourself to be the target of jokes or the fool in an awkward situation: Choking on an unchewed piece of squid sushi with half of it sticking out of your mouth? Don’t take the laughter you hear from your new Japanese friends personally. Don’t take much personally, in fact, if you can help it. Keep your mind open and be ready to laugh at yourself. The less seriously you take yourself, the easier your transition will be.
Finally, be ready for anything. You never know when you’ll find yourself running into a local tradition that no one told you about. Be ready to go with whatever happens, but also keep your limits in mind. If local customs include running around in nothing but a loincloth, at the height of winter, drinking insane amounts of alcohol, being doused with ice cold water, all for the sake of retrieving a lucky stick and your just not into that sort of thing, respectfully decline.
Reverse Culture ShockEdit
Reverse Culture Shock, or "re-entry", is a term associated with the phenomenon of returning to one's own country and culture.
Very similar to culture shock, a person entering into their home environment will have to make adjustments to reacquaint themselves with their surroundings. Unlike culture shock, most do not anticipate feeling like a foreigner in their own home. However, it should be expected. If you have made any cultural adjustments while abroad, you will have to readjust once back home. Similar to Culture Shock there are also discernible stages associated with Reverse Culture Shock.
While you are still abroad, you begin to start thinking about moving back home and moving away from your overseas experience and friends.
You may be very excited to be back in your own country and others may be equally delighted to have you back. After people express their pleasure at seeing you again, and listen politely to your stories for a while, you may suddenly and/or painfully realize that they are not particularly interested in what happened to you and would much rather prefer to talk about their own affairs.
In this stage, you experience dampened euphoria with feelings of alienation, frustration and anger. You may even feel like an outsider - a foreigner in your own country. It will be different from how you remembered it (The pollution may be worse. The pace may be more hurried and hectic, etc.) Suddenly you feel irritated with others and impatient with your own inability to do things as well or as quickly as you hoped. Resentment, loneliness, disorientation and even a sense of helplessness may exist.
The fourth stage of reentry includes a gradual readjustment to life at home. During this stage, you will no longer be shocked by the variety you find on the supermarket shelves and be able to contain your comments about differences between cultures that come to your attention. If you have difficulty filtering out the foreign words in your conversation, you will find that your English-only conversational skills will improve during stage four.
Dealing with Reverse Culture ShockEdit
Staying in touch with fellow JETS and friends you have made during your life abroad. Chances are you are going to make some good friends while you're here. Now with the power of the internet, video calling and social networks like "Facebook", keeping in touch is easy, even if that friend lives half-way across the globe. Sharing experiences of re-entry and ways to deal/cope with the different stresses will help you in your transition to living back home.
Get involved in cultural or international activities in your community. So what better way to give back to the JET program than by sharing your invaluable experiences in Japan. Volunteer to give a lecture or presentation at your local college campus or even become a member of the JET alumni in your area and help prepare new JETs coming to Japan. Look for Japanese related cultural groups and activities and join them. Maintain that link and preserve your sanity.
Stay connected to the world through global news networks and newspapers with an international/global focus. Sometimes just reading about things may help us feel less disconnected with the culture we miss.
Journal your thoughts and emotions. Express your emotions on paper. Get it all out!