Culture-shock refers to the period of time where you have gotten used to day-to-day living and are starting to see the parts of your new culture which grate on you. Kind of like being in a relationship–first it’s all hearts and flowers because they’re wonderful in every possible way and then after a while you notice they tap their fingers on the table constantly and if they don’t stop right now a pencil will appear in their eyeball.
Fortunately (or not) there is no such target for culture-shock aggression besides random members of that culture. They don’t know that the way they argue for a cheaper postage rate for twenty minutes is the most infuriating thing that has happened on an already cold, soggy and miserable day.
Chewing gum helps. When frustrated, the tendency to chew faster results in biting your tongue, causing pain and providing a distraction from the frustrating behavior of other people.
Another thing that helps is finding a place where you feel comfortable outside your apartment. For some this may be the gym, for others it could be the jogging trails around the lakes. For me, it’s my friend-family’s stables.
Friend-families are locals who have signed up with the university to basically adopt an international student for a time. The administrator of the program tries to match families and students up based on common interests and desired language skills. Happily, this resulted in pairing me with a family of four who own horses in a small town thirty minutes north of the city.
Even better, there’s a bus which drops me off a short walk away from their home.
Depending on the family, they may not be comfortable with you just dropping by. Mine prefer me to notify them ahead of time so they can leave a key out or something, but they’re okay with me dropping by at random if I need to.
After the day of soggy cold miserable weather and a thirty minute wait to buy two stamps and various other fiascos, I needed it. It’s amazing how much hugging a horse will make the world seem a little brighter.
Having someplace like that (maybe easier to access than a long bus-ride both ways) is essential. Somewhere that makes you feel at ease and isn’t your apartment. Apartments can be nice, but cloistering oneself doesn’t help give culture-shock the boot. Instead find a place that lets you contemplate the positives of this new culture.
Mine has large draft horses and a fully enclosed stable with a heater. A heated stable is not too common in the states I’ve lived in, but here it’s a necessity and feels awesome. Another favorite spot of mine, when the bus ride is just too long to consider, is the student-run coffee shop. Warm, one free refill, high-quality wi-fi and great people-watching opportunities. I like it so much I started volunteering there in the evenings, which makes my experience at the coffee shop even better. Warm, endless free refills, people-watching and Swedish practice. A free meal as well. I try to drink a lot of coffee and tea, since that’s basically how they pay you.
Four coffees or teas results in an hours minimum wage, so that and a pretty nice meal gets me three hours minimum wage. The fourth hour I work is just out of the goodness of my heart and for the entertainment factor.
Being abroad for a year means culture-shock won’t go away right before I leave, as is the case for some semester students I talked to. Having that comfort-zone spot outside your apartment will hopefully help you kick culture-shock to the curb that much faster and if it doesn’t you’ll at least have somewhere to retreat to while visualizing attacking someone with a stack of envelopes.