Preparing for Culture Shock
The first step is admitting you have a problem. That famous first step isn’t typically related to career breaks and long-term travel. But it is important for you to realize that you will experience culture shock at some point during your career break. It could be day one – it could be day ten – it could be day one hundred thirty seven. But at some point, you will be overwhelmed by your surroundings and face frustrations.
The key is preparing and dealing with it in a positive manner to get over it as quickly as possible and get on with your travels. You may go through different stages during your career break, and you never know when culture shock will strike. It might not necessarily happen right at the very beginning of your trip either, so it’s important to be prepared and know what to do when it happens.
Prepare Yourself Before You Go
There are several things you can do to help prepare yourself for culture shock before leaving. You already know that some things are going to be very different. In some places, everything will seem completely upside down, and you’ll feel like you’ve entered the bizarro world (India, anyone?). While you’ll never be able to replicate what’s going to happen on the road, there are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for what lies ahead.
Learn some of the local language
Wherever you go first, it’s probably a good idea to learn some of the local language. If you start in Latin America, realize that English is still spoken quite a bit, but for the most part, you’re going to need some Spanish to get around. Taking a Spanish class before you leave will help tremendously in your adjustment upon arrival, and there are plenty of places to do it.
Be brave in what you eat
Part of traveling is trying new, interesting, and sometimes really unique food. If you’re a picky eater, it’s time to change your habits. You will have to be open to new things, especially if you don’t want to spend 2-3 times more on food than you have to. Eating in western restaurants are usually much more expensive than eating locally.
Before you leave for your trip, you can start training yourself by going to new restaurants. Eat ethnic food you’ve never eaten before. Order something off the menu that you don’t recognize, and don’t ask the server what it is (the point and smile method of ordering is commonplace for many travelers in different areas of the world). Start getting in the habit of not really knowing what’s going to come out of the kitchen on your plate. It’s sometimes a scary yet exciting thing, and it’s going to be the norm when you’re out on your career break.
Read and research your destination as much as possible
You would think this is a common sense tip, but you’d be amazed at the amount of people who don’t read up on the culture and everyday life of the place they are visiting. You know those beginning parts of a guidebook that talk about the history, customs, and culture of a country or city? Read those! Knowing about the people, the customs, and what they’ve gone through is a huge part of trying to understand their culture. Understanding that putting your feet up in an Asian country can be highly offensive is a very important thing to know. In fact, voicing anything negative about the King in Thailand could land you in jail!
Reading about common scams and tips for not being taken advantage of is also a great idea. Anyone going to Bangkok should already know before touching down that tuk-tuk drivers are notorious scammers. When you want to go to one of the famous sites, the Grand Palace, chances are they will tell you it’s closed today, and they’ll instead take you on a ride (literally) all around Bangkok, seeing some temples but also to their buddies’ jewelry shops, rug shops, and any other shop a friend might own. The scam is mentioned in nearly everything written about Bangkok, yet unsuspecting travelers fall for it every single day. This would never happen if people just read up on a country before visiting.
Talk to people who have been there
It’s never been easier to obtain first-hand information about a place than it is today. With social media sites and blogs, getting instant feedback is the norm. Bloggers in particular are very forthright when it comes to helping people out and answering questions about a place. So if you’re reading a particular post about a country you’re going to and you have some questions, contact that person and ask. Chances are he or she would love to talk with you about your upcoming trip and answer any questions you may have. Getting the lay of the land before leaving, and knowing what to expect in certain situations will help keep you comfortable and will help tremendously so you don’t feel too out of place. And what better way to get that information than from someone who is there now?
Oh $#!+ Moments
There are going to be times when you think “Oh $#!+ – What have I gotten myself into?”. Well you’re not alone. Lillie Marshall recalls the time she was scammed by a taxi driver after arriving late night into Vietnam from Cambodia. (Runtime – 1:32)
On the Road
While on the road, it’s important to continue learning the local languages, even if it’s just a few phrases. Traveling slowly, developing routines, and utilizing the power of a smile are also helpful tips to counteract culture shock. We offer more insight on how to combat culture shock while on the road in our Basic Training Course & Community.
It’s important to know that you will experience culture shock and travel burnout at some point along the journey that is your career break. Even if you follow all these tips, it’s still going to happen. Whenever you take someone out of his or her comfort zones, no matter how much preparation that person has done, it’s inevitable he or she will feel overwhelmed at some point. You simply can’t prepare for every situation. What’s important is recognizing those feelings quickly and doing something about it.
What have been some of your “Oh $#!+ Moments”?