- Erasmus FAQ is the place where we gathered advices useful to every student going on foreign exchange. We divided the topics into three sections - before going on exchange, during exchange and after coming back home. If you feel something is missing simply add a comment or submit your own advice.
You're leaving for your long awaited trip, and are wondering if there's anything you forgot to take with you…there is one thing you can be sure is going with you: a set of attitudes and cultural patterns, consciously and subconsciously developed over the course of your life. Stepping into a new and different culture may be disappointing to you, as not all people will share your views on adequate behavior. Moreover some rules won't always be clear for you. Culture is often compared to an iceberg- at first the majority of it is unknown, which might cause some adaptation problems. The purpose of this short guide is getting you acquainted with the concept of culture shock. Knowing the causes and symptoms will help you consciously and painlessly adapt to the new Erasmus reality.
Temporary cultural astonishment – what is it?
Transferring to a culturally different surrounding exposes you to a variety of new stimuli. Which often might be quite a big load for our brain , that's why we should be aware of it and give ourselves an adjustment period. It usually last a couple of weeks and consists of the following phases:
- Cultural astonishment. The first contact with a new reality is often the most pleasant part. You are excited and positively surprised by the customs, which seem fascinating because they are new to you
- Cultural stress. As all the oddities bombarding you turn your initial enthusiasm into fatigue, you might feel lost and exhausted.
- Cultural irritation. Norms not fitting your cultural pattern cumulate and in result of even the slightest differences your irritation grows. Your frustration might concern a different style of communication than yours, lack or surplus of affection from people etc.
- Cultural weariness. The new culture overwhelms you with a constant stream of stimuli. Additionally, the necessity of using a foreign language all the time tires you out. Cultural weariness may result in avoiding confronting the new reality. Some people alienate themselves, other maintain contact only with fellow countrymen.
Culture shock – what exactly is it?
While temporary cultural astonishment can be a normal stage of adapting to a new reality, culture shock is a cumulative process caused by the differences between your values and the ones characteristic of the foreign country.
Most common symptoms include:
- Borderline home sickness
- Feeling of hopeless dependency
- Disorientation, isolation
- Depression, sadness
- Troubles with sleeping and eating
- Critical (stereotypical) reactions
The reason for a prolonged, negative reception of an alien culture is most commonly a lowered tolerance for encountering diverse behavior. That's why edgy and temperamental people as well as people with high standards are most prone to cultural shock. Small frustrations cumulate and grow like a snowball rolling down the hill and become really difficult to stop.
Encoutering a different culuture – how to adjust yourself?
Cultural shock and cultural astonishment may be treated as the same phenomenon, but with different degrees of intensity. An open mind, flexible approach and tolerance make a cultural shift much easier, although these terms are very imprecise, thus hard to implement. That's why we prepared a list of helpful tips that might help you in accepting different cultural patterns.
- Prepare yourself mentally – imagine how differ
- Try to research the culture you will be encountering. Patterns, even if not completely clear, will be familiar, which makes the adapting process easier.
- Investigate reasons for cultural norms – analyzing motives of people's behavior can be fascinating as well as make a good conversation topic.
- Think through the reasons and symptoms of cultural shock – you handle it better, when aware at which stadium of the adapting process you are in.
- Remember, cultural astonishment/shock is a pretty natural, emotional reaction and it's hard to rationalize it. Therefore don't be too hard on yourself when encountering difficulties.
- Don't try to stick to your culture patterns at all cost, this kind of approach will be tiring for you and the surrounding people.
- Try not to criticize things you do not understand.
- Try finding support amongst your new friends. Don't try to surround yourself with people from your country. Reduce contact with people from home to a minimum. Try to 'grow into' the new culture.
- Cultural astonishment is a temporary process. Take it easy and don't be too critical of yourself. Remember that this experience will teach you openmindedness, give you a better understanding of the diverse world we live in and boost your confidence.