Dealing with Culture Shock

San Francisco Coit Tower

Culture Shock is a common symptom of interning or training abroad. It can lead to a longing for the familiarity of your home country or feelings of insecurity. Even if everything is going well, discontentment can still creep into your life. The good news is that there are steps you can take to combat these unwelcome thoughts and feelings.

Keep Up With Loved Ones

When living in a different country you can’t invite a friend over to binge your favorite TV show. You also can’t spend an evening out with your significant other. But with programs like Discord, Skype, or Google Hangouts you can spring for some face-time with them. A weekly update or weekend hangout session is a great way to fill the gap left by being alone in a faraway land.

Another option is to reach out to the people around you. Talking to strangers is a great way to make new friends, hear interesting stories, or pass the time. It’ll also do wonders for your language skills!

Maintain a Routine

Feeling overwhelmed by a new culture can plunge you into a poor mental state. If left unchecked, feeling unwell can translate into being unwell. In instances like this, a routine can preserve mental acuity and physical well-being. Joining a gym, running, or devoting time to personal reflection are good options to integrate into a routine.

Failing that, T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” offers some great advice, given by Merlin to King Arthur:

“The best thing for being sad”, replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.”

With over 200 years of history, there is a lot to learn about the United States. An evening of reading or visiting some local landmarks is a great way to spend your leisure time.

Top-down view of vegetable bowls and platters

Eat Good Food

Traveling is an excuse to indulge. But you should be mindful of your portions and what you’re consuming. Eat 4-6 times a day and stay away from things like candy, soda, fruit juices, and jams. These offer no real benefit and cause your blood sugar to fluctuate like a roller coaster. As for what to eat… we’ve prepared a shortlist below:

• Protein

The building blocks of muscle! Protein increases the release of dopamine, which may improve your mood for several hours after eating. Protein also keeps you full longer than any of the snack foods we mentioned earlier. Consume things like fish, eggs, poultry, or low-fat Greek yogurt.

• Vitamins

A good multivitamin boosts your mood, satisfies cravings, and gives a good burst of energy all at once. If you’re not into taking pills, you can get your vitamins from certain foods.

B-12 is found in cottage cheese, lean beef, and salmon. Fiber is found in oats, beans, pears, peas, and brussels sprouts.

• Healthy Carbohydrates

Not all carbs are bad! Brown rice and whole wheat bread and pasta are all viable options to fill out your plate.

Realize It Isn’t All Bad

Culture shock is debilitating at first. But once the initial trauma has passed, take a moment to appreciate your situation. You are…

Eating new food

Even if it isn’t cooked or seasoned the way you like, it’s something off the beaten path from what you’re used to. Change is a good thing.

• Learning a new language

We’ve already talked about the benefits of language learning in a previous post, but this is a big one. Take every chance you get to practice and learn new words or phrases!

• Developing new ethics and morals

Every culture operates on its own system of beliefs. Encountering new beliefs or values can reshape your world view.

• Learning new etiquette

The unspoken rules that govern how people interact with and treat one another. No doubt they will be jarring at first, and you will certainly run afoul of many of them. Still, after a bit of time, you may take on the mannerisms of those around you. You may even find you like them more than your own.

Know The Stages

Understanding the enemy is half the battle. The Simon Fraser University lists 5 stages of culture shock:

1. The Honeymoon Stage – The excitement you feel about the experience.

2. Irritability and Hostility – What is different is inferior. You blame this new culture for your problems and frustrations instead of adapting.

3. Gradual Adjustment – You’ve developed a balanced view of your experience.

4. Adaptation of Biculturalism – You feel a sense of belonging and sensitivity to your host culture.

5. Re-entry Shock – Home is no longer what you expected it to be. You miss your host culture and want to go back.


Culture Shock affects us all in some way or another. How we deal with it depends upon where we are and what tools we have access to. Build a system and connect with loved ones. They are there to help you and support you in your endeavors. And don’t discount the hospitality of strangers! People are living their lives the same as you. They’re just viewing the world through a slightly different lens.

How have you managed culture shock during your travels? Share your tips and advice below! And don’t forget to share our post with your friends, especially those about to travel!

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