“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca
How To Learn and Grow From Culture Shock
One of my favorite movies of all time is “Lost in Translation”. The reason I like it so much is because I can relate to the main characters and the things they experience.
The film explores what it is like to be in a completely foreign environment, through the themes of loneliness, alienation, and culture shock. It takes place in modern day Tokyo Japan.
Plot: “Aging movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) goes to Tokyo to film a Suntory whisky advertisement. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the young wife of a celebrity photographer on assignment in Tokyo. Left behind by her husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), she is unsure of her present and her future and about the man she has married. Harris’s own 25-year marriage is tired and lacking in romance. Harris and Charlotte meet in the bar of the hotel where they are both staying and strike up a friendship. The two bond through their adventures in Tokyo together, experiencing the differences between Japanese and American culture, and between their own generations.” – Wikipedia.org
Traveling or living abroad can be an immensely fulfilling experience. The type of experience you have will greatly depend on your attitude and what you decide to make of it.
To give you a better chance at having a pleasant experience in a new country,here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Do some research to understand the culture you are going to be in. Things to consider: the people, food, weather, language, history, politics, social infra structure.
• Mentally prepare yourself for change: Some people, who travel abroad for the first time make the mistake to think that it’s not a big deal. Depending on where you go, the changes can be dramatic. Be sure to keep an open mind. Have a good attitude and be willing to get out of your comfort zone, realize that this is where your experience will gain meaning and depth.
• Prepare for the language: If you are not able to learn the language, make an effort to learn some basics. People really appreciate it when you make an effort to speak in their native tongue. Don’t worry about sounding silly, all that counts here is the effort. Slowly you will gain more confidence it doing basic things like greeting someone and asking for the bill for dinner. Check out my friend Benny’s unconventional “language hacking” course, on how you can become conversationally fluent in as little as 3 months. Currently I am learning Korean and his methods have already helped me out greatly.
• Spend time in the community: Before your departure do some research on how you can immerse yourself in the community. One of the ways I am currently doing this is by joining a yoga class. I have already made some great friends who have made my experience much richer by inviting me to dinner, going out, and taking weekend trips. Find out how you can continue some of your hobbies in your new country.
• Learn the laws: Every country is different, be sure to be conscious of its laws. You might think that something back home is not considered a big deal, but in your foreign country can mean a trip to jail. Getting in trouble in a foreign country is not where you want to be.
• Sense of Humor: Living in a new environment is full of many ups and downs, how you bridge the gap between the highs and lows depends on your sense of humor.
• Ability to Cope with Failure: It is important to not beat oneself up over things you would label as failing. Just remember that there is no way you can understand how everything works in your new country. There will be many things you try and fail at, brush it off. The only way you will learn is by analyzing your experience and seeing how you can handle it differently in the future.
• Being Open: Be willing to communicate your feelings and thoughts to others, verbally or non-verbally. This will help you connect and deal with the communication issues which will likely arise at some point. Just remember that words are not the only way we can communicate with each other.
A memorable experience of mine is when I took a train to a very small village in the Czech Republic. I ended up drinking wine and trying different types of cheeses with the locals. They spoke all most no English, but somehow we managed to have an evening full of laughter, smiles, and hugs. We connected on a very genuine level because we where willing to embrace our differences and celebrate the things we share in common as human beings.
• Curiosity: Have desire to know about other people, places, ideas, etc. Having a curious attitude will lead you to many unexpected pleasurable experiences.
• Keep a journal: You will be thinking and feeling things you have never experienced before. Recognize that this is an amazing opportunity for personal growth. An opportunity to get to know yourself better. Being alone in a foreign country forces you to live more in your internal world. You will begin to become acquainted with your inner space.
You may see things going on inside you that you previously were not conscious of. Don’t be scared, things that you have repressed may rise to the surface. Just learn to watch what is going on inside you without becoming attached. This is an opportunity to gain a whole new understanding that may help you release anything that is not serving your higher purpose.
Being Lost In Translation You Will Encounter
Different cultural norms and customs: Things like how and when to shake hands. What do you say when you meet someone. When, where, and how to be polite. There might be significant differences in how you address men and woman, or young and old people. Be aware of the different body language and the meanings it implies.
Culture Shock: It is going from a familiar environment to new environment that is unknown and the subsequent reactions of your mind and body.
Physical symptoms include:
- You might notice that you are sleeping too much or too little.
- You might find comfort in eating too much or actually have no appetite.
- You might experience frequent minor illnesses like upset stomach and headaches.
Some of the psychological symptoms of culture shock include:
- Social withdrawal
- Loneliness or boredom
- Fear of being alone, cheated, robbed, etc.
- Homesickness, constantly thinking of how things are going back home
- Feeling lost and like you have no control in your life
- Feeling helpless and dependent
- Trivial things make you easily irritated and hostile
- Feeling unimportant to your new environment
- Negative stereotyping of the people in your host country
- Feeling dependent and seeking comfort from people of your own nationality
- Feeling frustrated over language and communication with others
- Feeling a terrible longing to be back home
It is important to acknowledge if you are having any of these symptoms. First step in trying to overcome them is to be consciously aware of them. Secondly analyze objectively all the differences you see between your country and the host country, how could they be causing the sensations you are feeling. Think about what steps you need to take to overcome these differences.
Finally make some goals for yourself, what is it that you want to accomplish from your stay. Do you want to learn the language? Do you want to make new friends? Do you want to write a story? Do you want to understand the culture? Be pro active and take action, remember that your experience depends on what you decide to do.
Feeling Alone: Most likely you will initially not know anyone. See this as something positive as is gives you incentive to get out there and meet some new people. This is also a great opportunity to get to know yourself on a very deep level. If you catch yourself escaping your loneliness with watching TV, make a conscious effort to use your time more wisely. Go for a walk at the park, take photographs, and find a new restaurant. Remember that you might not be here too long, so make the most of it.
Unexpected things do and will happen: Being out of your comfort zone unexpected things happen all the time. If you have the right attitude this will end up being the most exciting aspect of your adventure. Learn to go with the flow, let things reveal themselves to you, but be ready to take action when opportunity presents itself.
Communication Problems: You might have to deal with problems back home. It is important to be able to communicate openly with your family or loved ones. Try your best to share your experiences, keep them up to date so that they will be supportive. This can also be a challenge with a large gap in the time zones.
Finding Directions: You will need to learn to be more outgoing. Be willing to ask strangers for directions. If you approach people with a good attitude most will not mind taking a few minutes to help you out.
This is a beautiful world we live in, a world full of mystery and contrast. I hope this post motivates you to take the plunge into the land of the unknown.
Just remember that being lost in translation will actually help you find more than you can ever imagine, so go get lost.
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