Culture shock is the sense of trauma, anxiety, confusion or disorientation that many individuals experience when they enter cultural surroundings different from their own. It is commonly associated with frustrations about communication barriers (e.g. language), dietary differences and different standards for cleanliness, personal space, gender roles and other social practices that may be different (or at odds) with one’s own cultural experience.
Culture shock can prevent you from adjusting to a new place and as a result affect your sporting performance. Minimising the culture shock is therefore important.
Symptoms of culture shock
- Unjustified criticism of people and cultural practices
- Heightened irritability
- Constant complaints about local climate, food, cleanliness, etc.
- Making excuses for staying indoors
- Refusal to learn local language, eat local cuisine or interact with local residents
- Excessive desire to only speak with others who speak your native language
- Excessively positive or superior views of your own culture
- Excessive worry about being robbed, cheated or getting sick
- Excessive focus on returning home
These feelings are normal, and sometimes just knowing that can help ease your mind and help you move forward. The more you experience your new cultural surroundings and understand local customs, the more quickly anxiety will subside.
Hints to prevent or minimise culture shock
- Remember that it’s normal to feel this way. Stay proactive and don’t focus too much on the negative aspects of transitioning.
- Ask for help. Ask your teammates or national federation for helpful resources. People want to help you adjust because the faster you feel at home, the more focused you can be on playing Basketball.
- Keep in touch with home, but don’t be dependent on home. Remember to reserve time for settling into your new surroundings and meet new people.
- Make room for familiar practices. Doing the things you usually do will make life feel more “normal” in your new location.
- Make friends with other expats. Many of your teammates, coaches and trainers may be expats as well, so they have probably experienced many of the same challenges (and adventures) that you will. Get to know them and share your thoughts, frustrations and observations.
- Make friends with local residents and join local groups. You may find that local residents offer many opportunities to engage with the culture directly. Making friends with locals will help you feel like you are part of the culture.
Is there such a thing as culture shock when I return home?
The longer you live and work abroad, the more accustomed you will become to your way of life in your new country. In fact, once you have adjusted and settled into a new place, it can actually start to feel like home. So when the day comes that you move back to your home country, you may be surprised to experience what experts call “reverse culture shock.” Reverse culture shock typically features four stages:
- Stage 1 – Disengagement. This stage starts before you leave for home. You may experience a range of emotions – sadness to leave friends and teammates, excitement to see family again and uncertainty about what is in your future.
- Stage 2 – Initial euphoria. You will be excited to see family and friends and share your experience with them. This stage occurs shortly before leaving for home and it often ends when you realise that most people are not as interested in your experiences abroad as you had hoped.
- Stage 3 – Irritability/hostility. As you sense that people may not be as interested as you had hoped. Some of the feelings you may experience in this stage include:
- Boredom and restlessness
- Frustration and misunderstanding
- Loneliness and homesickness for where you were
- Changes in personal relationships and in how you relate to your native culture
- Stage 4 - Readjustment/adaptation.
The best way to manage reverse culture shock is to anticipate it ahead of time. By knowing that returning home will not be as easy as it sounds, you can mentally prepare for a period of adjustment. Remember that everyone back home has a life of their own and they have continued living it while you have been away. So be prepared to listen to their stories and not take it too personally when they may not show as much interest in your experiences abroad as you had hoped they would.