When moving to Crete be prepared to experience culture shock. Even if you have spent
many holidays on Crete, and think that you know the country and the people well it
can still manifest itself when you are out of holiday mode and start dealing with a new
life. After the initial excitement you may discover that you feel lost and encounter
difficult times and crises in daily life; not knowing how to do simple things that you take
for granted in your home country. Communication difficulties will occur and it can be
very frustrating not being understood or not understanding.
What exactly should you expect and how can you overcome it?
The following article gives you some answers.
Reproduced with kind permission of Simon Payn www.livingabroadreport.com
The ability to cross cultures is essential if you are to live overseas successfully. Indeed,
a mark of the international citizen is the ability to fit in.
If you can't do that, not only will you be unsuccessful but you'll be unhappy too.
Getting on with people from other cultures is paramount. After all, you will be thrown
into all sorts of situations - at work or in your personal life - where you will need the
help and support of people from cultures other than your own.
Those who are successful in an international career are able to adapt to other cultures.
Indeed, employers when hiring look for someone who will feel at home. After all, who
wants to be a fish out of water, and who wants to hire one? It would lead to disaster.
But more fundamentally than that - if you fail to adapt to your new culture, you're going
to be unhappy. And unhappy people end up going home.
If you are continually feeling like you don't belong and that you don't understand the
society in which you find yourself, you are going to be feeling continually isolated and
That's no way to live - and it's certainly no way to succeed.
So what does culture shock feel like?
When you're used to things being one way, suddenly being somewhere where things
are quite different can be a huge shock to the system.
It's as if all you ever knew is wrong. People don't behave in the way you expect them
to behave; things don't happen the way you expect them to happen.
This experience is called "culture shock".
Craig Storti, in his book The Art of Crossing Cultures, is careful to make the distinction
between country shock and culture shock.
What is this difference?
Country shock is the shock at the physical differences you encounter in your new
home; the different standard of living, perhaps, or the language. It's the very fact that
you are somewhere new - you don't know where anything is or where to get help. You
This would be bad enough. But on top of that comes culture shock proper. And with
this, we're talking about the people.
The way people behave differs according to the culture in which they have been
brought up and live. Something that might be culturally unacceptable to you might be
perfectly acceptable to them - and vice versa.
An example if queuing - or getting in line. In Britain and North America, people know
how to queue. Indeed, it's said the British like nothing better than a good old queue.
Go to Spain, (and here in Greece!) for example, and it's just the opposite. There's a
queue or sorts but, in the words of Expatica's excellent blogger Sal DeTraglia, it's
"three-dimensional". There's no easy to understand line but rather a huddle of people,
most of them shouting to get attention.
It's these fundamental differences that lie at the heart of culture shock.
Culture shock doesn't come on as soon as you step off the plane. Indeed, the first few
days and weeks often feel like a holiday. It's known as the honeymoon phase - you are
so happy to be in this exciting new location that you are blind to its differences and any
faults you will later perceive.
But then culture shock sets in. You start to be aware of the culture around you, and
you don't feel comfortable in it. You feel you are being continually assaulted by events,
and you start to feel stressed and uncomfortable. You can even start to hate your new
home and the people within it, to the point of being ready to leave and go back home ..
This period can last for a few weeks - until you start to take control. Then you start to
recover; you find the skills you need to cope with culture shock and start to beat it.
That's when you can finally be said to have adjusted - to be functioning properly as a
foreigner in a foreign culture.
How long will this process take? It depends on many factors, such as how different the
culture is to your home country and the tools you need in order to accept that culture.
Culture shock begins when the honeymoon ends - when you have to take off your
rose-tinted spectacles and face the real world. It manifests itself in many ways.
You will become aware of silly misunderstandings with people you meet. These can
lead to general confusion about people and events. Aspects of the country - things
that are 'not like at home' - start to get to you. You perceive these things to be so
much worse than at home - and you can't seem to understand why things are not
done the way they are back home. After all, the way you are used to seems so much
more sensible, so much more efficient, so much more pleasant. You start to resent the
country for not being like home; for annoying you with its inconveniences, its difficult
people. You even start hating the place where you live.
All this leads you to start to feel lost. There feels like there is nothing to hold on to - no
familiar places, rituals, sayings. You can start to feel lonely.
And when you start to feel isolated and lonely, it can get even worse. You lose
confidence in your ability to cope - things start to get difficult in your everyday life at
work. Your ability to function is reduced - you're too busy stressing about the culture
that you can't concentrate on the task in hand. Tasks that were easy back home are
enormously difficult. You can no longer take things for granted.
The point is: if you stay in this state, you will be unhappy. You might end up throwing
the towel and going back home. Indeed, culture shock is one of the main reasons that
people stop living abroad.
But luckily there is a way to fit it and succeed abroad.
I'm not going to tell you that getting over culture shock is easy. But here are perhaps
the three most useful ways to put an end to culture shock - and perhaps nip it in the
bud before it starts.
First - research. It goes without saying that it helps to know what you are getting into
before you get into it. If you are expecting the country and its people to be a particular
way, you won't be shocked when you get there. So research as many aspects about
the country and the people as you can. Luckily, there are many resources out there to
help you in the form of websites and books.
Next - accept that people won't be the same as you. It seems simple, but by making
this paradigm shift, the shock doesn't seem so, well...shocking.
If you are expecting someone to behave towards you as you would back home, you'll
be shocked and upset when they fail to do so. But if you expect absolutely anything to
happen - and you accept it - you can't be as shocked. So instead of comparing their
behaviour to that you would expect back home - and comparing it unfavourably - just
say to yourself that it is different. Not worse, not better - just different. Now, you don't
necessarily have to agree with this way of behaving - but it won't get to you quite as
much as it did before.
Finally - get out there and get yourself muddy. It's easy to give into the urge when
culture shock sets in of staying at home and locking yourself away from the outside
world. But this is the worst thing you can do. You must go out there and confront it, go
and keep yourself busy and start meeting people. Not only will that take your mind off
the shock you are feeling, but it will also bring you close to ways of understanding the
culture. The more you are exposed to it, the more you will see how normal (in that
particular country) that behaviour is, so the more you will accept it. And if you are able
to meet other people - particularly expats - they will be able to share your
frustration...but also help you find a way through it.
|Copyright 2004-2012 Carol Palioudaki. Culture Shock. Living in Crete www.livingincrete.net