Culture Shock

Why culture shock is good for you   - an interesting Infographic outlining the benefits of going through a culture shock experience - created by Work the World.com 

Cultural Shock / Homesickness - “Different from what I expected”

In advance of the secondary school programme participants often have many pre-conceived ideas about what their experience, new culture and host family will be like. In some cases people are on the right track, but in most cases people find that things can be “different from what I expected”. It is important to realise what is happening to them and that it isn’t uncommon for people in new surroundings to have some of these feelings. More important is to do something to help relieve these feelings.

It is not a case of the reality not living up to the expectation, more simply that the experience is different to what they anticipated.
All participants anxious to engage in new culture will experience some kind of culture shock, no matter how short their programme. One of the main ways that culture shock expresses itself is through homesickness. This may start at the airport, or whilst on the flight, or during your first few days / weeks. Sometimes it can strike several months after leaving home. Whenever the feelings of homesickness strike, it is important for them to remember that they are not alone.

Culture shock occurs when they impose their values and expectations onto the new culture, and consequently have difficulty adjusting.

Culture shock can manifest itself in many ways: 

          • Homesickness
          • Frustration
          • Stereotyping
          • Illness
          • Re – emergence of emotional issues concern for safety
          • Negative statements & thoughts irritability
          • Changes in Eating / Sleeping habits social withdrawal
          • Crying
          • Boredom

They will not wake up some morning and say, “I feel homesick today”. They will wake up and feel tired, unmotivated, perhaps thinking about home a lot and frustrated at you’re their new surroundings. Some people have the classic symptoms of homesickness like crying or difficulty sleeping. Others may have more subtle changes in their behaviour, which over time can make them difficult to be around. There will be people and events at home that will trigger homesickness, missing birthdays etc. Everyone suffers from homesickness, no matter their age or previous travel experience.

Simple strategies for dealing with culture shock 
          • Be prepared : they are likely to encounter culture shock and most likely feel homesick;
          • Avoid telephoning home – they will feel wretched afterwards
          • Keep busy and try to get involved in the community
          • Be flexible and open to new ways of doing things
          • Allow them time to settle in – get them to talk about how they are feeling
          • Do not allow them to spend too much time by themselves
          • Do not judge them too quickly
          • Take things step by step

Some other symptoms of culture shock: 

          • Becoming more shy and quiet
          • Becoming more rowdy or doing things that they normally wouldn’t do
          • Withdrawing and feeling sad
          • Feeling frustrated often, even in situations which are not new
          • Becoming very critical of their host country; everything seems better at home
          • Clinging to a host family member or friend instead of reaching out to others
          • Feeling tired or ill all the time; stomach aches or headaches are common.

Over time, things will get better, and the host family is usually the key to success in getting over these hurdles. Sometimes age is not a factor. 14 year olds are as easily effected by culture shock and homesick as an 18 year old. It just takes time, support and understanding to help get them through the difficult days. If you are very concerned, always let your coordinator know.