First of all, if you didn’t know what cultural shock is, now you will find out. To explain it in a short and clear way cultural shock is like this: You pack your bags and go to an exotic country to travel with a happy go lucky attitude. You arrive, spend there some time and then ¤/¤&%¤#%#%#”&”)”&#&#&#GDFD, you get angry! After this you either accept the situation, that the country you went to wasn’t as romantic and awesome as you imagined it to be and it makes you go nuts, or then you go home with sullen mood and never return to that hellish piece of &¤%#&”&¤.
If you try to avoid culture shock that will make your travels more pleasant, unless you go to China because preparation or not, you will have a bad China day one day or every day and there is no helping that. For further details you might want to check Wikipedia – Culture Shock (Wikipedia? Yes very creative).
Without further explanations, because no one cares and it’s boring, here are my personal unique tips. Dare to be a pessimist before you arrive and be nothing but an optimist after your arrival.
1. First of all lower you standards and expectations. I know when you are excited about a trip you usually go and read all kind of awesome travel blogs, guides and other books (watch pretty pictures, God forbid) which make everything sound even more super duper orgasm for all senses rainbows 24/7 and sweet caramel rain. But seriously, think twice. If there was such a place on earth why would anyone live anywhere else, like your country? Be excited but do not lose your brains.
2. Find out what is the SHIT in your destination. What I mean with the SHIT is not the awesome things you are waiting for, but the worst of all! Smelly, awful, disgusting, brown thing you usually wash down the toilet bowl. Find out about that. Google something like: the worst things abut the country xxx and things I hate about xxx.
3. Be so darn open minded like never before. Try out local foods (everything from the streets to fancy restaurants to supermarkets), get some new friends, hang out in the lounge and common spaces of your hostels (maybe not the bathrooms unless you want to be creepy), go to pubs or sit on the terraces of the restaurant, if you are desperate try to chat with your waiter/waitress maybe they will have some time to hang out with you after their shift is over (this is fucking desperate but why not?), get to know your travel guide and visit their home etc etc etc there are hundred different possibilities, use your imagination.
4. Activate your sense of humor. Otherwise how will you survive all the following disasters: hotel rooms will be crappy, buses will be dirty, little thieves will steal your money, you will lose your passport, you will have to buy a 38 hours standing ticket in Chinese train, you won’t have an opportunity to take daily shower, you will see poverty everywhere you go, or then you will feel poor everywhere you go, no opportunities to do laundry, food sucks, diarrhea, diarrhea, diarrhea and diarrhea.
5. Gather information. No one likes this word but STUDY! If you have a Lonely Planet of your destination read the information part, it can be interesting. Or then read a book which deals with the culture you are about to experience. Find out facts and bits about the history, basic culture and follow current news. If you do this you will also have some topics to talk about with the locals and it might be easier to understand their jokes. Table manners are important to know! When the locals realize you know so much about their country they will respect you.
The most important thing is the history about the culture because it will help you understand why people act like they act, think like they think and do what they do. And anyway, you will have time to read something during your flight.
If you are a picky eater or skeptic when it comes to food try out some dishes before you go to your destination, find out restaurants or products from ethnic shops. You could even try to cooks something and then try at the destination if you did it right. It’s fun if you like cooking.
When I prepared for my exchange study year in South Korea I watched Korean dramas, followed celebrity news, read novels, studied about the history, listened to K-pop and made some kimchi. After arriving to the country I felt as if I had been there before, it wasn’t that alien to me. When I traveled in Iran I read a bit of Koran and when having a discussion with the locals I asked them questions. It was quite interesting.
6. Prepare well, check that you have all of your travel documents, credit cards, local currency, maps, address of your hostel, photocopies of everything, clean underwear etc. So you won’t have any unpleasant surprises when you arrive.
7. If you go to a destination where people don’t usually speak English then learn some of their language, just a few words should be enough already like ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, and ‘sorry’. Food words and how to order at the restaurants are the best because you need food, so simple. You could even write down simple phrases like “I’d like to order xx” or “how to get to a destination xx” and show them to locals when you get into trouble, ignore the fact that this seems really lame but hey, step three: activate your sense of humor.
8. Don’t make too tight schedule or then burn out and rot in your misery (unless you like to be constantly on the run). It would be cool to see EVERYTHING but seriously, is everything worth your sanity? Your choice.
9. In the end, when you are so fucking pissed off you want to die and fed up with the “new amazing” culture which turned to be as shit as your own if not sicker, then think back and go trough the reasons why did you pick out this destination. Remember your childhood dreams and aspirations, remember your grandmother’s foods and pickles, your grandfather’s self made vodka and… well maybe not so far but anyway, seriously. If you ended up in the middle of nowhere there must have been a good reason for that.
10. Relax. When everything goes bad then buy a glass of beer or whatever you like to drink, sit down, eat some good food and read (the bible?) the days newspaper or just the comics instead of news. Just give a moment for yourself to calm down and think about the mess you have gotten yourself into.
11. Keep your cool, because that’s cooler than heating up. Don’t be proud and angry. Even if locals piss you off don’t take it out on them that might get you into bigger problems. Don’t think that you are better than them, or you can think about it but don’t let it show. No one likes self centered assholes, not even you. If you ask help from some local and he/she acts indifferent or even ignorant, ask someone else. Just don’t be an asshole no matter how bad your day has been, it will make you feel bad as well as people around you.
Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that nothing is perfect, nowhere is good and all cultures are equally shit at some level. Enjoy what you can and when you get angry just let it out in a peaceful manner, do sports or tweet your frustration away.