How to deal with a culture shock when volunteering

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You, as a new volunteer, just arrived to your new home: A culture with different customs, people, languages, food, and much more – wow, now there is suddenly so much new to discover! Your adrenaline and dopamine are setting you into a frenzy and you see your new surroundings through rose-colored glasses – welcome, you are in the so-called “honeymoon phase“. Maybe you already know this feeling of happiness, which makes you want to explore your new home, experience it and thus also be a bit blinded by challenges.

What is a culture shock?

Unfortunately, what often follows the euphoria is culture shock. Accordingly, travelers and also you as a volunteer can suffer from a frightening experience of a foreign culture. The more the culture of the destination country differs from your own, the more likely you are to become a victim of culture shock. Then sobering often sets in abruptly and the first major challenges and misunderstandings suddenly appear in your perfect world. Negative thoughts, the feeling of “I just don’t belong here.” and the desire to return to your home country leave their marks. The good news is that culture shock is completely normal and you can overcome it in no time with a variety of tricks! And how?- don’t worry, I’ll explain it to you in this guide!

But first you should know that after every low comes a high again. After the culture shock, you usually automatically enter the recovery phase, in which you regenerate from time to time. This phase is characterized by the development of an understanding for your new environment. You get used to the new surroundings and eventually make friends with the new culture.

The final phase of such a process is the adaptation. You see your new world with different eyes, there are fewer misunderstandings and you no longer judge so negatively. Your mood lifts and you are clearly more satisfied, more balanced and even adapt the behavioral patterns of the culture.

What an emotional roller coaster! That can be quite scary, isn’t it? Luckily, you’re not alone and I’m going to give you our best tips for your volunteer journey!

Preparation is key :alter_schlussel:

In general, it can be said that preparing for a different culture can help you face possible challenges. This includes, for example, learning the language in language courses, teaching yourself, or maybe you even know someone who speaks the language you want to learn fluently? It also makes sense to learn about local customs and traditions in advance. This is not only super interesting, but can also lead to less problems with locals. Also, you should question your expectations in advance – are my expectations really realistic? Did I perhaps already put on the rose-colored glasses and idealized everything? In doing so you will know what to expect in reality and you will be able to avoid disappointment.

The arrived :gepack:

As explained before, arrivals are often initially in the “honeymoon phase” and then fall into a culture shock. During this time, a lot of impressions, reactions and feelings, such as joy, but also fear, can overwhelm you. First, become aware of your feelings and accept them as they are. Then you can use different coping mechanisms to reduce culture shock. You could, for example, continue with your routine as you are used to from your home country. If you used to go jogging in the morning, you could try this in your new home. If there is not a forest nearby, look for other options, such as a park or a beach. Try to stay flexible and look around for other ways to go, because often there isn’t only one solution!

Dealing with culture shock :explodierender_kopf:

With a little patience, things will settle down naturally over time. For sure you will become accustomed to living conditions with some confidence. Through acceptance and adaptation, you may find that not all the peculiarities of the new culture are bad. Realizing that helps to grow your tolerance for new adventures and you become a more diverse person. Maybe some things are even better than in your home country.

If you want to help yourself, language or leisure courses can help you find new contacts and friends. Exchanging ideas with like-minded people who are on the same journey as you can also have a positive effect on homesickness and loneliness. By the way: This also includes the communication with locals. In addition, it is advisable to remember the purpose of your trip, as this will certainly give you new motivation and strength. Finally, once you have overcome the culture shock and arrived in a new country, you will actually appreciate the culture. Furthermore, you may be able to adapt the behavioral traits of the new culture.

Local collaboration- how it works :racket:

Adapting to a new volunteer environment is also part of staying abroad. It helps to find out about the NGO in advance and get an overview. “What values ​​are represented?”, “How does the team work?” or “What is expected of me?” are questions that can help you. Commitment and professionalism are also among the skills you should bring to the table. Joining a Volunteer World project also means cooperating with locals, which means you should keep in mind that other countries have different customs. According to this openness and mutual understanding are key here.

At the same time, there may be language barriers with locals in general. In this case it helps to speak slowly and clearly, to use gestures and facial expressions and to avoid idioms. And as the saying goes, practice makes perfect! So don’t be shy and just speak once, because we humans learn best by doing.

Cultural Differences are real :nach_oben_zeigen:

There are many different cultural norms, values, taboos, customs and communication styles to consider. Misunderstandings can quickly get in the way. To avoid this, open communication and respectful interactions are important. In addition, mutual curiosity and the desire to understand your counterpart are good skills for solving cultural differences. You could also ask your counterpart if he or she would be willing to discuss a cultural issue where you challenge typical stereotypes. When it comes to strengthening your cultural awareness, you can share traditions with others and engage with new ones – whether in your personal life or in a volunteer place.

In the end, only you can decide how to deal with the circumstances and what to make of your stay abroad. However, preparation is the key for having an enriching experience. It can also help you realize that you are going through a culture shock. But always remember: You will get out of the situation with the help of locals, friends and coping mechanisms, as well as openness, respect and curiosity! Try to really understand the culture and maybe you might adapt cultural aspects afterwards. Gain a lot of experience, stay positive and open-minded. And now look forward to your experience abroad with Volunteer World, have fun!



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