Making the decision to move to another country was not that hard for me. As a restless person who has a thirst for adventure, and whom I might add, is a bit daredevil, I have always found it exhilarating to live a new life in the middle of millions of unfamiliar people; I enjoy being a total outsider, and discovering something new. Yet, sometimes I remain blissfully ignorant of the consequences that lay ahead. Actually, everybody does. We are often blind with excitement, great expectations, hopes and other positive emotions that will leave sooner or later, once we have arrived to the foreign destination.
A short time ago, I found an interesting article about this global phenomenon: culture shock. Everybody (maybe even Superman) experiences feeling a little lost in a new place. As one who has never feel that way, I congratulate them, maybe they should apply for a superhero’s position in the Avengers.
What is culture shock?
I am not an expert and I will explain culture shock from my amateur point of view.
Russia was not the first country that I moved to. Long time ago, when I was really young, naive, and quite cute, I moved to Spain, and I lived there for about 2 months. If you are amused with the short duration, less than a year of my stay, and feel that it can not be categorized as ‘living’, you need to try it. No matter how long you stay in a place, no matter how close it is from your homeland, moving is moving. You change almost everything.
Yet, for those two months, I didn’t sense any vast differences between my hometown and Spain: the weather was a pleasant temperature and suited me; and the people were friendly and approachable. Looking back, I still don’t understand why people dramatize the culture shock.
Then, four years ago, I decided to move to another country with a name that can make you shudder with cold: Russia. Here, I finally experienced the reality of culture shock. . . quite drastically. I felt lost! I didn’t know how to behave, what to do, where to go and what to say!
I discovered that culture shock is when you are totally surprised by the things that occur in your new place. It affects not only the foreigners trying to establish it as their new home, but also the tourists! The reasons vary widely. It might be because the people, the weather, the culture, and other things that can ruin your mood or even your new life. It happens when the reality somehow doesn’t meet your expectation and imagination. The country you dreamt about was not as beautiful as you thought before; the people didn’t welcome you as warm as you dreamt; and everything in your plan goes wrong.
It depends on your experience. Some feel it faster than others – as soon as they step in the country. Some feel it after years. Based on the article I’ve read, culture shock moves through four different phases: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. To read more, please click this link: https://medium.com/global-perspectives/the-4-stages-of-culture-shock-a79957726164
Culture shock impacted me in my first month living in Russia, and it is still present nowadays. I am getting used to more things, but still, sometimes things that I see or I experience firsthand can dismay me just as hard as before.
Let me waffle about myself...
To be honest, I experienced a real culture shock to find myself in a cold, grim, too sophisticated town with a fast pace of lifestyle such Moscow after living on a laid-back and modest town in Indonesia.
For almost a year, I didn’t have any energy, any mood to go outside, to explore Moscow as normal people do. My acquaintances kept asking me why I didn’t take opportunities to enjoy this ancient and stunning capital city. My husband kept encouraging me to pluck up my courage to go shopping alone, wandering alone in my small town. My response to hearing such a speech was that I blamed them for not trying to be in my shoes. (Until now I did, though! :D)
At that time, I spoke almost no Russian. I found it hard to communicate with the local people. Some understood that I am a foreigner, but some just easily judged me and complained since I didn’t understand what they were talking about (stupid people are everywhere). To make it worse, I had a problem when I was in a market, the cashier kept offering me this and that, when I could just answered ‘no’ or ‘yes’. The result jeopardized my situation – people who were standing in line staring at me, thinking that I was so awkward.
I always felt that Russians kept watching me. They do sometimes even nowadays, but, actually it is triggered by curiosity. I look like a ‘Russian from the east’ but at the same time, somehow I look different. Both combinations make their heads turn with their eyes not moving off of me.
In summary, I only stayed at home for about one year. Going out only if my husband accompanied me. When people asked me how I could live like that, my answer was as simple as a pie: I am a bit ‘crazy’ and a nerd, so staying at home for a long time will not make me more crazy than I am now.
In a year, the situation had shockingly changed, or it forced me to change myself drastically. I received an interview in Moscow to be a Bahasa Indonesia teacher that required me to travel alone since my husband could not come along with me. Frankly speaking, I prepared myself a week before, mentally and physically. My town is far enough from the capital, it takes almost two hours to reach the place. It was winter and that was my first time being alone taking the bus, and practicing my rusty Russian.
Was the mission accomplished?
It was. Yet, I still felt the same way. Believe me, dealing with culture shock is not as easy as dealing with your bad hair day. I still feel a bit uncomfortable to go too far alone, I feel sad when stupid people shout at me on the street. At those moments, I really want to leave that city, and I miss my traditional foods, and so forth.
Overcoming culture shock needs time. Not only one, two, or three months. Not even year maybe. The duration varies from one to another. But, at least I started to enjoy living in my new place. I started to open my mind, and to try to understand better the way those people think, to adapt more. I learned to excuse myself if something went wrong and I experience a problem with the locals.
How to deal with the people who are affected by culture shock?
Don’t ever force them to adapt as fast as you wish. You might laugh at them, but when you feel the same, you will stop chuckling, and just sitting on the corner of your room alone, feeling frustrated, and finally understand that it was not that simple as “ABC”.
Encourage them to do more activities. You might introduce your culture step by step, introduce your city, food, etc. Or even assist them in learning your language. Make them as comfortable as possible.
Sit. Wait. Believe. If you do these, what you need to do is repeat: just wait and keep doing it. Believe me, your friend or acquaintance will find their own comfort zone soon or later.