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One of the workshops I attended at the OM GO Conference was on Culture Shock. New team members often face culture shock when arriving at their destination. They need to be able to recognize it and know how to adapt when it happens. Here are some of my notes from that workshop.

Culture – What is it? “Culture is what makes you a stranger when you go far from home.”

Your expectations may be uncertain, facing an unknown place with unknown people who speak an unknown language.

Stressors may develop from dealing with the people, language, climate, food, and loneliness.

You may be able to read the written language but you may not. If it’s Western you may be able to figure some words out. If it’s Japanese or Arabic, you won’t be.

The date may be written differently – in England it’s DD-MM-YY. In Japan it’s the opposite, YY-MM-DD. And in the US it’s neither, MM-DD-YY.

In Africa advertisements may be painted directly on the wall. Trucks playing music may be ice cream trucks in some places but garbage trucks in others.

The level of the spoken voice may be very loud in some cultures, very soft in others, and if you use the wrong one you change the meaning. Hand motions while speaking are normal in some places.

Are your possessions yours? Depends on where you are. In some island nations, what’s yours is free to everyone else in your tribe.

What about colors? In the US, you may see any and every color in the spectrum of dress. But some places certain colors denote specific political parties.

Physical behavior – touching another person is not done in public in some cultures. In others, it’s acceptable for a man to touch another man – never a woman – on the shoulder to get his attention. In others, it is acceptable if the woman initiates it, to touch some else’s hand or shoulder.

The time question – is it acceptable to be late? What does late mean? Very fluid, flexible attitudes toward time may wreak havoc with your schedule if you’re not aware and understand this difference.

Adjust! “You must adjust.” While adapting you may show signs of stress:

  • Tired and need a daily nap
  • Feel guilty that you’re not accomplishing tasks fast enough
  • Homesick
  • Withdrawn, remembering home and how things are there
  • Anxious, worried
  • Confused, not understanding why in some places you’re stared at
  • Physically ill from the food or water
  • Food and drink unfamiliar, tastes and smells unfamiliar
  • Emotionally upset or fragile for no reason
  • Identity crisis
  • Frustration, irritation with others
  • Have to learn everything from scratch like a young child

One of the ladies who was working far from home often drove across town to eat in a Burger King, just to be able to relax where the people could understand her.

Culture shock may result in drawing close to someone too soon, and for the wrong reasons. That first letter home may be negative. It is better to let someone else read it, then re-write it before sending it out.

Normal cycle of adaptation:

  • Home – things are good
  • Host country – everything is good at first, then drops to horrible.
  • “Tourist stage” – Be careful not to make yourself a target.
  • Leads to “flight, fear, fight, fortress, filter” attitudes.
  • Things begin to improve.
  • You become more flexible, you fit in, feel like you can stay.
  • Return home – awful at first, eventually good again.

Helpful hints for adapting to culture shock:

  • Find outlets to help yourself, have fun and relax.
  • Don’t judge other cultures – different from you does not equal wrong.
  • Rest enough, eat properly, take care of yourself.
  • Have a sense of humor.
  • Make a local friend, but be careful in sharing your struggles.
  • Realize you have a problem, if you do. Talk it over; talk it through with someone.
  • Focus on the Lord. He was tempted in every way that we will be.
  • “Do not doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.”

Good advice no matter what the situation, changing jobs, moving across the state or the country, or making any other major changes in your life.