I have gone one a few trips overseas and been to a variety of countries with varying levels of similarity to American culture. With that said, I am not an expert on culture shock, and I tend to have more shock when I come home than when I go to another country…but I have found some things to be true when dealing with the possibility of culture shock. I’ve compared notes with other vagabonds and we seem to agree in the basics.
Also, most of my trips have been for religious/missionary reasons, so the notes that follow have that bend as well. Some would be universal for anyone traveling from home, but some are specifically for those who are Christians. If you are not a Christian, I ask you not to run away and hide, or lash out irrationally. We each can find a way to live together, but I would say that having my faith with me and knowing that God is right there with me wherever I go has been key to getting over any culture shock I have had myself. (Psalm 139:9-10)
These points are great for groups who are going on a mission trip together, but can have application for other trips as well. I hope it is helpful!
(Also, I did mention that I tend to get reverse culture shock, which is culture shock when you’re returning to your own culture from being in another for an extended period of time. I’ve found these points helpful for the return as well.)
What to watch for:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sleeping for extended periods
- Nausea Diarrhea
- Apathy or irritability
- Feeling highly critical of everything
Keeping a Journal
In this, you should include your daily experiences, recaps, expectations for the day, reflections on your devotion, etc. Your journal will be your best friend and the place for you to express your joys, vent your frustrations, and anything in between!
Listen to familiar music
Do this sparingly. I would suggest only for about 15 minutes or so. If you have some music in the local style, listen to that as well! It’s a good way to help you acclimate to the new culture a bit more.
Prepare yourself to experience a different culture
Things are going to be different. Get that into your head now! The food will taste different (even if you looooooove Mexican food here). Customs will be different. Personal space is something that is handled very differently too. There are going to be smells that you are not used to. Dirtiness and cleanliness will be something you just have to deal with on your own. You can be grossed out all you want, but try not to let it show to the locals – they will be offended. Hand sanitizer can be your best friend, but again, don’t use it every 5 minutes in front of the kids – they will be offended.
This is very, very, very important. First priority is water. You must stay hydrated. Carry around your water bottle with you at all times. Bring a nice durable one that you can set on the ground anywhere (preferably with a belt clip). If you think you may have trouble, then take individual powdered Gatorade packs with you. Electrolytes are your friend.
Also, do not be afraid to eat the food. You need to stay healthy and strong. Try new things, but if you’re having a hard time stomaching something, take some snacks/comfort food in your suitcase to munch on.
God’s grace covers all things. He will give you strength to get through whatever is troubling you. Pray for teammates. Have times where you pray for each other in a group or by yourself. You will be amazed how much better you will feel after you have blanketed yourselves with prayer. And don’t forget that you have people at home who are praying for you diligently. You are loved and cared for, especially by God.