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Two ears, two eyes, one mouth.
When you are in a new area, and you are not familiar with the culture, maybe you should try to listen and look around more than you speak. That is, you should first
observe the habits and customs of the local people. This way you might be able to pick up differences between the way people of your culture and the people of the “new” culture express their feelings and ideas.
Even if you have studied a language for many years in your home country, you might find that you have difficulty understanding and communicating using the language in a native environment. This is a very common experience, so try not to be discouraged. These are some of the common causes of such problems:

Body language.
Different cultures have different gestures, ways of standing, walking, using hands, eyes head etc. Typically there are meanings associated with these movements and gestures, and these may be difficult from the meanings attached in your own culture.

Sometimes when you go to another country you may feel confused, nervous, irritable uncertain and dependent on others. You experience many different feelings and reactions. If you do experience these things, it could be as a result of culture shock. For example, maybe the buildings look different, the food is not what you are used to and the people look, dress, speak and act differently from the people at home. Again this might all contribute to your inability to communicate clearly. You might feel lonely, possibly you will miss your family and close friends more than you anticipated. This could cause you to question your decision to travel to this new country/area. Did you make the right decision?

Dealing with culture shock requires a special effort. You should remember though, that you are not alone in your feelings of discomfort. In fact during the first few weeks or months in a new country, most people experience similar reactions. This is a normal response to a drastic change in your physical, social and cultural environment.

There are many ways to deal with culture shock, here are a few examples:

Listen, observe and keep an open mind.
You may be unfamiliar with the social rules in your new environment. Try to listen carefully to what people are saying and observe their body language closely. Concentrate not only on verbal, but also on non-verbal communication practices. This way you may discover the meaning intended by observation and interpretation rather than assuming from past experience in your own culture.
If some of the non-verbal signals are offensive in your culture, don’t take it personally as in most cases there probably is not any intention to offend or insult.
Everyone can be proud of and comfortable with their own cultural background. An open mind and awareness of differences can help people respect and learn from each other.

Ask questions and seek clarification.
Remember that you may have misunderstood something someone said or did. Ask yourself if the behavior you see makes sense within the culture, even if it seems wrong or strange to you. Rather than jumping to conclusions ask questions from those you know who you think can help.

Keep your sense of humor.
Everyone makes mistakes, but when you can laugh at yourself and some of the mistakes that you make it will help you to learn, adapt and enjoy the experience. Expect to make mistakes as you explore any new culture.

Anxiety and frustration.
Learning to function effectively in a new culture is not easy as meanings in Cross-cultural situations are often unclear. This can be stressful because you are not sure what others expect of you or what you can expect of them. In these situations it is natural to feel anxious and frustrated. If you recognize that these feelings are a normal part of the experience of living away from "home" you may be able to deal with them more efficiently. Your sense of humor and openness will also help. As you gain greater understanding of the new culture you can expect the level of stress to diminish.

Become involved.
It is extremely important that you try to become involved in some activities and events with the locals. This can help you to observe things from an insider’s perspective and can help you shed many prejudices and apprehensions you might have had. Remember, the more you put into the experience, the more you will learn from it. Try to make an effort to meet people, form friendships and get involved in recreational activities.

Moving to a new culture is a learning experience.
There is a lot you can learn from experiencing and understanding a way of life different from yours. It may surprise you to discover that you will learn things about your own culture that you may not have thought about before. It is a rare opportunity not only to broaden your viewpoint but also to mature personally and to understand yourself better.

Readjusting when you return home.
Many people prepare adequately for culture shock, but not for reverse culture shock. Almost all visitors to foreign countries experience some degree of culture shock in reverse, particularly when they return home after having stayed abroad for several years. You may find the adjustments needed even more painful and difficult than those you made when you first arrived in the new country partly because it may come to you as a surprise. Again it helps to try to have an open mind. Also following some of your old routines might soften this reverse culture shock.

This article can be discussed in the China-World forum here.


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