Your quick guide to facing, overcoming and understanding Culture Shock

Traveling can trigger culture shock. Moving to Poland will definitely give you a jolt too. I still don’t like the phrase “culture shock”. Sure, there’s plenty that is “shocking” about different ways of life. But to me it feels more like a disorienting fog that kind of drifts in slowly after the honeymoon is over (keep reading). If you have traveled or moved anywhere, you have likely felt this before. I remember experiencing it even just moving from Chicago to Washington DC. A small example: everyone complained about the Metro and I was like, You guys, they post how many minutes until the next train, I haven’t been accosted by a bum in any way, and its clean.  Please do not burden me with your baseless complaints. The Metro felt like a sleek and shiny new car vs. the one you drove in high school. But, like so many things, adapting to a new culture is all about perspective. If I hadn’t had my Chicago Transit Authority experience, I would have been complaining in DC like the rest of them, for sure. How is the “L” these days, anyway? Still gross? Gosh I miss Chicago sometimes.


Culture shock affects everyone to a different degree. Having an open, adaptable and flexible outlook helps. You will soon have a whole new understanding of, and appreciation for your new country, (or city), as well as a broader view of your home country. But first it can be disorienting, awkward and frustrating. Its totally normal. You are passing through a period of personal growth.Here are some helpful hints, tips and tools to help you adjust and fit in as best you can. Culture shock can trigger strong feelings, and is usually categorized into four phases:

The Four Phases of Culture Shock

1. The honeymoon phase. When everything is new, exciting and charming.
2. Frustration, or crisis. The excitement fades and you become confused and disoriented trying to navigate a new language, ways of communicating and different customs. You may feel isolated and become homesick. You fall in to the “cultural fog“.
3. Adjustment and recovery. This phase can last a long time, months or years! You slowly become comfortable with your new surroundings. The people, culture, and food become familiar. You get things in order for daily life, and establish new friendships to help make you feel at home.
4. Adaptation. You have gotten the hang of new customs, habits and cultural practices. You begin to integrate into society and accept the differences that make your new home unique.

See? Recovery from culture shock is a process. Give yourself time to adapt.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’t’s for adapting to a new culture:

Don’t fear the unknown, be excited for it! Culture shock can (will!) be good for you. View it as a period of growth and a unique opportunity to gain a new world view.

Don’t assume anything. Cultural differences are relative. Your usual way of doing things may be totally different, but it doesn’t necessarily make either way wrong vs. right!

Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes and missteps. Give yourself grace and be patient.

Do be open-minded and curious. Be open to learning like never before and you’ll allow yourself an entire world of education and experience. You’ll get to know your new country’s and city’s cultures in no time.

Do learn key phrases. Tackling a new language is a huge undertaking. Learn a few key phrases that will help you gain initial confidence in communicating when you’re out and about. Start with “please” “thank you” “hello” “goodbye” “yes” “no” and how to order a glass of wine. You’ll begin to pick up more in no time and teeny tiny doors will begin to open.

Do join a hobby group. You’ll meet people with whom you have something in common from the country in which you now reside. You’ll gain insider info, as well as expand your community and this will make the day to day challenges less daunting.

Do ask questions and ask for help. As isolating as living in a new country can feel, you are never alone. There is a ton of support out there and your network will only continue to grow the more you reach out to it.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to feel culture shock one day. You know what they say, travel erases all bias and prejudice and all that jazz. Or something like that, right? We could all use a little culture shock. Its good for you and good for the world. If you’re in the midst of your own shocking experience, and remember nothing else, just remember live action 2015 Cinderella’s motto: Have courage and be kind.

You’ll be ok kid.


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