Here is an article I recently wrote for the study abroad company I traveled through.
The First Week : 5 Quick Ways to Combat Culture Shock
By Anna Bechtel - Anna is a GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Alumni Ambassador who completed an international internship in Wellington, New Zealand.
Unlike studying abroad at a university, an internship abroad may jolt you out of your comfort zone a lot quicker than you will expect. For most people, it is being taken out of two major environments at the same time, the home country environment and the university environment. Being one of only two interns at the time in New Zealand, I felt simultaneously grown up and very much alone when I first arrived, not having that instant friend network built into my life that comes from the university. This doesn’t mean those friend networks aren’t there, it just means you have to search a little harder to find them. Here are five quick tips to combat that first week culture shock abroad.
1) Don’t isolate yourself. As easy as it may be to just sit in your room as you wait for things to get better, don’t do it. It is critical to get out and interact. Meet new people. The bridging cultures program is great for this, because you will at least have someone else who is going through the same emotional rollercoaster that you are right there next to you, but even after it ends it is important to be out in the community. I went to the public library the couple days before starting my job, there was free internet and an excellent view of the Wellington Harbor, but most importantly there was people abundant and no pretense about fitting in or not.
2) Establish your familiars. If your mind is like mine, immediately after my orientation ended I went into survival mode. But by locating the grocery store, post office, phone store, and a couple coffee shops I was able to map out my new home and feel more comfortable going out from one place to another, not feeling like a tourist but more like I belonged. Comfort food is a big one for me, so a coffee and kebab (almost like Chipotle… almost) really calmed me down.
3) Explore! Once getting yourself calm, it’s time to focus all that negative energy into positive by getting out and exploring. Finding all the little nooks and cranies of Wellington city was such an adventure and so easy on foot. It even got me excited about exploring more places further away from my housing complex and I felt more and more confident doing so on my own.
4) Remember to laugh. The first thing I unpacked when I got to my room was a surge protector to charge my electronics. Upon plugging it in, I immediately shorted out the circuit in my room and fried my cord. The difference is voltage was something I completely forgot to look at, and I just had to laugh and think about what a great story this would be to tell when I get home. Don’t let the little stuff get you down, remember : This is a learning experience J
5) Plan what’s next. You chose this program for a reason, remember? To get out and try new things! So get online, ask around, make your to do list and find all those new experiences you want to do. Planning adventures makes the time fly.
As scary as it may be to be alone in a big city, never forget that your family is only a call, text, or email away. Not everything will go perfectly as you plan, but you will certainly have some great stories for when you get back!