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How to Deal with Culture Shock When Teaching English Abroad

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Are you missing the comforts of home as you teach English abroad?

When moving to another country to teach English it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the new challenges that face you. One of the challenges that face many new teachers is culture shock; suddenly you are transported into a different place where all the rules go out of the window (figuratively speaking).

When I arrived in China from England I didn’t really have many preconceptions, but it was a shock to the system to see how different things were compared to back home (the food, the traffic, the people). Here I list 10 ways to minimize the effects of culture shock:

  1. Keep an open mind and remember just because things are done differently, it doesn’t mean they are not done right. What may seem normal to you may seem strange to someone in your host country and vice versa. Learn to appreciate the differences as a great life experience. It’s good to sometimes take yourself out of your comfort zone!
  2. Arrange social activities with your colleagues. Movie nights, playing pool in a bar, or if you are feeling brave try something like KTV (Karaoke bars popular in China, Japan and Korea). The other foreign teachers will also be a long way from home so it’s good to get together and have a laugh about some of the weird and wonderful things you encounter living in another country.
  3. Look for things that will give you a taste of home. Unless you are working deep in the rainforest, it’s likely that there will be familiar brands, so it’s always good to stock up in the supermarket with comfort foods that remind you of home. If this is not possible ask friends or family to send care packages containing simple things from home.  I wasn’t a fan of fast food in England, but I find it’s sometimes nice to sit in McDonalds or KFC and imagine that I am in London if I am missing home.
  4. Go out and make friends with the locals. Join a gym or try a sport. Not only will this make you feel less isolated, it will also help hugely with learning or improving your knowledge of the local language, which in turn will combat culture shock.
  5. Celebrate your national holidays. Here in China the foreign teachers get together for Christmas, Thanksgiving and other festivals from back home. Everyone cooks a dish and we take it in turns to host. Don’t worry if you can’t get the exact day off together, but have something planned around that time.
  6. Use social media to keep up to date with everyone back home. In the days of Facebook and Twitter it is a lot easier to maintain contact with your loved ones than in years gone by. Even after you take into account the time differences there is usually someone awake at any hour to have a quick chat to if you find yourself feeling a little homesick!
  7. Use Skype or a similar app to call home once a week (or however frequently you want). There is plenty of free software available to call home for free using an internet connection. I use Wechat in China, but things like Snapchat and Messenger also work. If you are living in a country which restricts certain websites like Facebook, it is possible to bypass this by using a VPN (virtual private network), but check the rules and speak to colleagues to ensure you do not fall foul of any local laws.
  8. Sign up to something like Netflix or stream TV shows from home. You don’t have to miss your favourite soap opera in the age of technology!
  9. Try and allow for a home visit at least once a year. Most schools pay for a flight at the end of a contract so this is a good opportunity to go home and make all your friends jealous with tales of what you have done and seen while teaching abroad.
  10. Have fun and enjoy the experience. It may seem overwhelming sometimes and everyone as bad days now and again, but remember how lucky you are to have such an incredible experience, one that you will be able to look back on for the rest of your life.

So there you have it. If you are feeling the effects of culture shock or are a little homesick, try some of these tips and you will be feeling right as rain in no time! 

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