CULTURE SHOCK

When you travel abroad, you experience   culture shock. The reaction can be more or less intense, maybe you won't even notice it!

Be aware, however, that this is a normal and completely natural phenomenon. It is necessary for your adaptation. Culture shock affects everyone, even the most experienced people. It manifests itself more often when we feel a little alone and far from everything that is familiar to us. Its impact varies from person to person, its intensity depends on your destination and the duration of your stay. Seems obvious when you think about it, we've all faced it.

Cultural differences are everywhere, although they are more pronounced from one continent to another. The fact remains that even at the national level, they exist. Symptoms of culture shock are: irritability, unexplained fatigue, apathy, depression, compulsive snacking, negative ideas about place and people, minor ailments, refusal to fit in, craving for stay alone. It's harmless and temporary, but the best way to combat it is to prepare for it.

That you participate in un language stay or at a humanitarian programs,  we do everything to prepare and support you throughout the adventure. You will find in the guide general of the traveler, various tips regarding your trip.

You can contact us anytime to ask questions, remember no question is silly!

Once you have left, you will be well cared for upon your arrival, and the local teams are at your disposal throughout your stay.

They are used to hosting foreigners, and have often experienced culture shock themselves when traveling.

But why this culture shock?

Because despite ourselves, everyone has their own cultural baggage, it's our ways of acting, thinking, our reactions, everything that makes things seem "normal" to us.

But what is normal for us may not be for others.

Culture shock occurs when everything you know, the rules you have always lived by, are challenged and turned upside down.

For example, here, when there is work in the street, it is during the day so as not to disturb the noise at night.

In India for example, it is the opposite, the work takes place at night so as not to disturb daily life, which is very unpleasant in the eyes of Westerners!

In fact, in our country, the individual is more important than the community, whereas in many other countries it is the opposite.

The points that differ the most between different cultures are often:

  • The importance of intimacy or modesty (thus in some countries, to know if you are well, you are asked if you have been to the toilet today!)

  • The notion of time

  • Self-reliance (you may be proud of being self-sufficient, but it can also seem strange in communities where family is very important, and where it is unlikely to go alone to an unfamiliar place)

  • Cleanliness (we are very concerned about germs, expiry dates etc. but in emerging countries you should not expect to find refrigerators set at 3 or 4 degrees or houses scrubbed with bleach every day – be careful, this does not mean that people are dirty!)

  • The place of women

  • Politics

To illustrate culture shock, imagine taking a person from an African tribe, and taking them to Paris or London, all by themselves.

Imagine the shock and distress of this person. Even if she had dreamed of leaving because she could hear stories or see these cities on television, the difference is so great that it seems insurmountable.

This is what you may feel, more or less intensely, depending on the destination and the length of your stay.

If you feel that you are in the midst of culture shock, here are some tips to better manage the situation:

  • Admit to yourself that you are a bit lost. This is not a sign of weakness, and culture shock is normal!

  • Try to understand the behavior and reactions of the inhabitants. Don't judge them, their ways aren't better or worse than yours, they're just different

  • Memorize basic vocabulary, say hello in their language. You will see, the more you try to fit in, the less you will be treated like a stranger.

  • Take care of yourself, eat healthy and get enough sleep. Fatigue only makes things worse.

  • Play the tourist, discover the surroundings and the beauty of the country

  • Try to develop a social network, make friends. You have many people around you (other volunteers, the local team, children in orphanages…)

  • Stay in touch with those around you and your family, talk to them about your problems.

  • Do something that reminds you of "home", listen to music, read a book, check out your favorite sites on the internet.


You will find below some remarks that were made by participants in times of culture shock.

Observations like these are common – you will likely find yourself in similar situations. 

Let's try to detail them and answer with a strategy to overcome the problem:

It's very different from what I had imagined.

Of course it's different! Most tourists who come to France expect to see us walking around with a baguette under our arm and a beret on our head, and think that everything is romantic in France!

Prepare to face a reality that will be either similar to what you had imagined, or a little different, or the complete opposite.

Document yourself on the country before leaving, talk to someone who has already been there, and above all do not judge too quickly and take the time to observe.

I don't like food, most of the time I don't eat anything

This is a recurring problem when traveling.

Food adaptation is one of the most common difficulties for travellers.

See meals as a convivial moment that you share with other people, and not as a constraint.

Respect the food that has been carefully prepared for you, especially if you are staying with a host family.

If there are foods you can't stand, say so, dialogue is always the best way to get along.

If you have no appetite, there may be a hidden reason; do you eat less when you are stressed? Do you miss your favorite dishes?

Talk to your coordinator and other participants.

I don't understand when people are talking and I can't communicate

Language can be a barrier, especially if you can't make yourself understood with gestures. Try other means of communication; visual, gestural or draw to communicate.

Instinctively you will develop skills to communicate other than through language.

Before leaving, ask yourself two minutes and imagine how you will communicate without speaking the language.

Use your imagination and quickly learn basic vocabulary.

Focus on what you can do, not the other way around!

Specific to humanitarian travel:

I don't see how what I do can make a difference

Just the fact of making the decision to leave already makes a difference! Find out about your project before leaving, imagine what you will do once there.

If you doubt the impact of your work, tell yourself that you are part of something bigger. Each participant brings his stone to the building, and together you make the difference. Think globally and act locally. Many leave with the idea of wanting to change things, to help on the spot. You should know that it is difficult to change things profoundly in a few weeks or even a few months. Your action may not have visible results at the time of your presence in the country, but it will contribute to a fundamental change, slower, less visible, but more important for the lives of children or the preservation of the environment. .

You will not change the world on your own, but you will contribute to it!

The work is not very difficult, most of the time I have nothing to do

This problem can be difficult to manage. On some projects you will have to use your imagination and initiative to keep you busy. If you have a new idea, talk to your coordinator before you start, just to check that it meets current needs.

The first time after your arrival, you will be introduced to the project and observe the local team. Individual tasks come little by little, it's up to you to show that you want to get more involved.

The difference between rich and poor makes me furious

Our thoughts are influenced by what we live and see every day. Naturally, you will use your "value system" (which is part of your cultural background), to judge the situations and people around you.

Don't judge too quickly, and take the time to observe.

Respect the fact that you are the foreigner and that you are in another country with another culture.

Do not express your feelings in public, but talk to your coordinator who will be able to explain to you how the company works.

I feel frustrated to have made such a long trip and not to discover the country apart from this small village and the people who live there

The main reason you have chosen to participate is to help and to be a volunteer.

The trip comes right after. If you want to visit the country, try to extend your stay after your mission.

Your coordinator will be able to guide you and suggest an itinerary.

In the meantime, take full advantage of what you are going through, of your new daily life, because it is an unforgettable experience that deserves all your attention!

The only difference between us and employees is their salary

Local organizations need volunteers for several reasons.

Some volunteers feel like unpaid workers, as they do the same work as local employees.

Talk to your coordinator, who will explain the importance of volunteers in humanitarian work.

Most organizations don't receive any government support, so they can't pay more people.

The help of volunteers is essential to the survival of these organisations.

Try to chase away negative thoughts before you become demotivated.

 

I find that the climate is difficult to live with, I am tired all the time

Changing altitude, temperature or humidity can have dramatic effects on the body.

Find out about the climate before you go.

Hydrate yourself often, and if you don't feel well, report it immediately to those around you.

Some essential qualities to adapt to a new culture:

If you have one or more of the following qualities, your integration will be easier:

  • Open-mindedness: the ability to be open, without prejudice and without being sectarian, to have a flexible opinion and open to novelties.

  • Sense of humor: you will be confronted with annoying situations, which could discourage you, make you cry or make you angry. But, with a good sense of humor, you will quickly laugh it off and not despair.

 

  • Knowing how to manage failure: a very important faculty, because everyone fails at something one day or another. People who are used to succeeding at everything at home (studies, friendship, etc.), and have never failed can be destabilized in an environment where you can't manage everything. Accept that you are human

  • Knowing how to communicate: the fact of communicating and sharing one's joys and sorrows, orally or by gestures, avoids isolation and promotes integration.

 

Flexibility and ease of adaptation:

it's tolerating and managing in the face of the unknown, in the face of ambiguous situations. You don't judge too quickly and try to understand before acting.

  • Curiosity: it is the desire to get to know other people, other countries, other ways of thinking, etc. The first step towards the unknown and therefore towards adaptation is curiosity.

  • Positive and realistic expectations: there is a close relationship between a positive idea and a successful integration.

  • Tolerance: Tolerance towards difference (religious, practices, lifestyle, thoughts) will help you on all your journeys.

 

  • A positive look: if you manage to express empathy towards others, human warmth, respect and a positive look, you will easily integrate a new group and make friends for life.

  • Have self-confidence: do not doubt yourself, but do not impose yourself on others. Be confident in your ideas, but stay open to new ideas.

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