This article is basically dedicated to the new traveler, or any traveler unfamiliar with what to expect when traveling abroad. In effect, this article is a compilation of the kinds of things that people are usually not ready for when traveling. By saying this I mean, that these are the challenges and ‘cultural differences’ that can lead to cultural shock.
Culture shock is no phenomenon. When we humans are introduced to a new environment, it is not uncommon for there to be some lapse or period of adjustment. Some people fare better than others, and no two people will react and adjust the same way. Cultures of the world tend to be quite diverse and what is common in one culture can be foreign to another.
My top 5 list for things that can produce some cultural shock
- Great Cultural Practices and Customs. This is the first, most obvious, and usually primary catalyst of cultural shock. Whether people come from western areas traveling to the far east, or from far east traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa, they will likely experience some differences in culture. Generally, the further away people come from a place the more different a culture will be. Cultural customs can range from religion to traditions, to celebrations or just a way of living. One could also include language barriers into this category. Remember, that a joke in one culture is an insult to another.
- Food Differences. Probably the second most discussed cultural difference that I can think of is differences in eating habits. In some cultures eating certain things, such as a brain, might seem gross, while to another culture that might be the best part of the animal. Also, portions sizes and what is considered ‘sanitary’ seems to fluctuate a bit.
- 0-24 vs. am/pm. Outside of aspects specifically relevant to culture come the things that are more widely known, but still take some adjustment, at least to your thought process. The 0-24 hour system is one of these, as are the next two. Americans are accustomed to using a AM/PM system of time measurement. We have 12AM and 12PM. Whereas, the rest of the world uses a system where there is only one 12. This system will not exactly produce culture shock, but it will however make you miss a train.
- Electricity changes. These last two are the smaller two, but changes in electric sockets will leave you without a way to use your electronics. People need to be sure to pack adapters accordingly.
- The dreaded Jet Lag. Jet lag is one of the most talked about aspects of flying. People that fly a lot have their own methods for dealing with such things. However, others who have not do not readily expect it. Its effects are not consistent per person, but to some it can take a few days to get on a new sleep cycle depending on how many hours you are adding or subtracting to your day.
For a little humor:
How to deal with these 5?
Dealing with each of these aspects can be done and with time even these things become easier. You can change each category from a setback to a growth opportunity. For example, major cultural differences, whether with food, language, religion, or what have you can be reduced by two things; openness and knowledge. One can reduce a cultural barrier by doing some studying before visiting a new region, like reading travel site’s like mine and others devoted to helping you in your travels. Also, being open to the cultural differences will greatly enhance one’s flexibility. Note, even language barriers can be reduced by properly adjusting one’s speech and dropping colloquial phrases.
A funny story I remember was of a friend traveling through Ukraine. She met up with a local girl and the two were searching for a postcard stand. As they were unable to easily find one, my friend said, “It is strange that there are no postcard stands around here, in the last place that I was in, you could not throw a rock without hitting one.” Shocked, the Ukrainian girl asked, “Why would you throw rocks at postcard stands?” Obviously, something was lost in translation here. I tell this story as a comic relief, but also to show you how one needs to adjust themselves somewhat when traveling as people express themselves differently around the world.
Electrical changes can easily be combated by ensuring that one brings the proper adapters. My advice for anyone leaving the US for a nation that runs on the 0-24 hour system is to get a watch or switch things like your phone to the system to acquaint yourself with it. Another suggestion is to carry a watch or phone while traveling that expresses time with the system. It will help tremendously, as over time you will be able to think quickly in both times.
Preparing for Jet lag is part of the battle. One needs to be ready for the time changes. Either one can adjust their schedule somewhat before leaving or just try to adjust once you arrive at your destination. I have not really ever effectively overcome jet lag before a trip, but I have once arriving somewhere. I recommend ensuring that you do not go to bed until it is nighttime at whichever destination you land. If you go to sleep midday upon arrival you are setting yourself up for a messed up schedule, at least for a few days.
How do you deal with culture shock?