Long story short…don’t.
Remember when you stepped off the plane into this new country and everything was beautiful? Granted, you were probably just glad to be out of airports, and at this point, it didn’t matter where you were…But, still, remember? Remember how the sun shown so perfectly on you as you walked out of that last airport, pulling your luggage and trying not to trip because you were so busy looking at everything around you?
For me, every little thing was exciting. Jordanian flags? Amazing. Signs in Arabic? Wow, so cool. Tall, white, limestone buildings? So Arab. So authentic. Despite the inevitable stomach problems you get from traveling, my first few weeks in Jordan were like a dream. Yes, I had some problems. But, overall, I was still fascinated by everything and in love with everything.
But, let’s be real, that isn’t sustainable. There’s a reason it’s called the honeymoon period of cultural adjustment. I am certainly no expert on culture shock, but there are some valuable lessons I’ve learned from my own experiences. Here are some of them…
- Culture shock is so, so normal. Don’t beat yourself up over feeling extra stressed, or even depressed. It doesn’t matter how your classmates are handling it. Your feelings are valid and normal. You moved to another country where almost everything is different!
- Show yourself some patience and grace. There were so many times I didn’t know what would be best to do to help with my culture shock. I couldn’t process the right decision for myself, so I kept asking myself, “If my best friend had these problems, what would I tell her to do?”
Also, remember, “Inte mish inte ween jao3aan…You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
- Asking myself what advice I would give to my best friend helped so much. Last Thursday I had the option of staying at home and watching Gilmore Girls or going to someone’s house for game night with some of my friends. I knew staying home would make me more depressed, but I was worried about the awkwardness of trying to find this person’s house at night and going to the house of someone whom I had never met before. I realized that if my best friend was asking me what to do, I would tell her to endure the awkwardness and go have fun. So I did! And it was so worth it. Keep pushing yourself- even if it’s awkward.
- With that being said, don’t push yourself too much. Now is not the time to beat yourself up for not cooking more, not exercising more, and not speaking the local language more. Take time to truly rest and rejuvenate. I spent last weekend with my friends from the States in a city up north in Jordan. I’ve lived with these friends during a couple of summers in the States- so it was so nice to have that feeling of home and normalcy even in Jordan. I knew these friends wouldn’t feed my stress and depression from culture shock, but would give me a safe space to process things and would encourage my heart.
- While staying with my friends, we had a fall party with some Syrian families and went to the house of a Syrian family for dinner. The Syrian family we ate dinner with basically only spoke Arabic, so no Engleezee for the night! My Arabic is definitely limited, but it was so fun seeing how much I do actually know while talking with this sweet family. My time with the Syrian families also reminded me how much I do love Arab culture and how much I feel at home in it.
- Getting through culture shock is a delicate balance of having some comforting things from home, while still immersing yourself in the local culture. You don’t want to spend your whole time reminiscing about home- you want to make this country your new home. However, sometimes you need to bring things from the States into your new country to make it feel like home. My favorite way to do this is with food! So, I spent last night making a pumpkin pie from scratch (as in I cooked the pumpkins and made my own pumpkin puree). It took forever, but it was so worth it seeing how happy it made my roommates and how it added a sense of normalcy to our lives.
- Once you’ve given yourself some space to rest, start establishing some routines and realistic goals. My goals for this week were to make a pumpkin pie, speak only Arabic in stores/restaurants, and exercise every day (even if for only 10 minutes). Yes, studying abroad is definitely an adventure and you want to push yourself while in this new country. But, at the same time, I think you need some routines and small goals so you can accomplish your big goals of getting adjusted to the new culture and making progress in the language. (Also, so you don’t have stomach problems all the time because you realize you’ve been eating just falafel, French fries, and kinafeh for 4 weeks).
Just like in marriages, the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever in a new country. But, just like in good, strong marriages, the honeymoon phase can be replaced by a feeling that this new country is your real home for now. It is hard to get through the culture shock phase, and I know I’m not completely through it, but it is worth it, I promise. Don’t book the next flight home.