Nobody wants to go overseas and turn into a miserable wreck. Yet, few people, including myself, ever take the time to sit down and develop a strategy for keeping their sanity. I’m going to address this issue today by clearing up a little misunderstanding about culture shock.
Culture shock has nothing to do with being exposed to things that you consider to be shocking! Yes, it may be shocking to roll up to the Wangfujing district, in Beijing, China, sit down in a restaurant, order what you think is a ham sandwich, and then be served a local favorite, a stick of deep fried scorpions.
And it’s even more shocking to experience the poverty and lack of organization inherent in many Asian countries. Again, though, these things, while shocking, are not culture shock, and they will not have a long-term effect on your ability to keep the drool from leaking out the sides of your mouth.
Culture shock is the feeling of helplessness and frustration caused by a gradual loss of power and control over one’s life. These feelings of helplessness and frustration can become intense and overwhelming when a person realizes that he or she lacks the ability to take care of him or herself. The abovementioned inability to get a ham sandwich is one good example (the scorpions are inconsequential, and besides, honestly, they are pretty tasty).
Consider, as well, the negative feelings caused by an inability to rent an apartment, go shopping, use the post office, figure out public transportation, or ask for simple directions, and you begin to understand what culture shock is and how it has the ability to cause a perpetual state of expat depression.
So, what can we do about it? There are entire books addressing the subject, but, really, there is just one thing you need to do if you want that ham sandwich—learn how to order it in the local language!
Have any ideas or suggestions about how to keep one’s sanity while overseas? Leave them in the comments section below.