When I first moved to the Middle East in my 20’s, I had a blissful honey moon stage. People seemed so hospitable, and I was enthralled by everything Turkish. Even riding a dolmuş, a blue and white mini-bus with blaring Turkish pop music and evil eye charms swinging from the rearview mirror, made me smile. But at 6 months I hit a wall and had my first bona fide cross-cultural crisis. I cried for two days and felt like I hated everything about Turkey. I was desperate to catch the first plane home, but sheer grit made me stick it out.
Your first year overseas, moving back and forth between enchantment and frustration with your new country is normal. Here are five ways to deal with culture shock.
Be open to changes. Accept differences for what they are, simply different. Just because things back home are different doesn’t mean they’re better. As much as possible, avoid comparing your new country with your home, especially when talking to national friends. I fall into this trap myself even after 12 years here. I hear myself saying, “Back in America…” I want to avoid this so that I won’t negatively influence my kids’ attitude towards Turkey.
Don’t be afraid to take the first step
This is my watch word when it comes to making friends with nationals, who may feel unsure about how to approach us. Step out and knock on a door today. Make a phone call to the person you met on the bus. Say hello to the person next to you at church. Your life will end up being richer.
If you’re not sure what to do or how to behave, just observe the nationals. What are they doing? When you visit someone in their home, how do they receive you? How do they serve tea? Then you do the same things when people visit you.
Seek out fellowship of other workers
Other cross-cultural workers in your country are a wonderful resource for tips on how to deal with local schools, how to shop, and learn the language. Although you want to avoid living in a foreign bubble, a few friends that you see regularly can be an encouragement. I have a South African friend I don’t often see, but we talk by phone weekly. A heart to heart talk with someone who understands first hand what you’re going through can do wonders for your outlook.
Invest in your spiritual growth
Whether you’re in a spiritually dry environment, or struggling to understand the language when you go to church, it’s important to cultivate your spiritual life. The simplest things for me are daily time with God and keeping a Christian book on hand. Others friends listen to podcasts or find encouragement through websites like Desiring God, (In)courage, or International House of Prayer. Choose what works for you. When you are doing well spiritually, culture shock is easier to deal with.
Do you have any more suggestions for dealing with culture shock?