Maybe you’ve experienced a form of culture shock before during your travels. You suddenly feel as though you are in an entirely different world. You observe new smells, sounds, colors, the people and their ways of behavior are totally different than you know them from home or other countries you might have visited. This can really be overcharging and you might begin to feel a bit lost.
To be honest, I was a bit skeptical whether or not to write about a topic like this. Is it okay to write about cultural differences and similarities, especially when tightly linked with religion? So these are just my personal impressions and experiences and I hope to not step on anybody’s toes while sharing them.
When I arrived in Morocco 3 weeks ago at times I did feel similar things as described above. I spent the first few days in Marrakesh and as fascinating and beautiful this country is- the Moroccan culture is just completely different than the European or „Western“ one. Even with many years of travel experience a small culture shock was inevitable. Here I’d like to give you some tips that might help you counteract the effects of a culture shock during trips to countries that are completely new to you.
Culture Shock: How to open yourself up to a new culture
#1 Rid yourself of prejudice
My first piece of advice and, in my opinion, the most important prerequisite. Often in our upbringing, our society and especially through the media, prejudice is planted in our heads about certain religions and cultures. Unfortunately these prejudices become fixed in our subconscious and we (often even without really knowing it) carry them with us our entire lives. To be completely honest I had my doubts about traveling to a Muslim country, especially as a woman, because to me it was like diving into a great unknown. Fortunately I let go of these doubts though and I am extremely happy that I did. Because when we try to really open ourselves up to these unknown cultures and just let go of our prejudice, the true magic happens.
#2 Don’t be a tourist
No, of course you cannot avoid being a tourist- because that is literally what you are when traveling to another country. What I mean is: Try to respect the traditions and customs of the country you are traveling to and act accordingly. Here’s an example: Especially in a country like Morocco, that means for the ladies: You just don’t run around in a short skirt or hot pants, it’s simply out of place here. For sure, you can go ahead and try it, but don’t be surprised at countless hit-ons, amazed looks or people shaking their heads at you. Of course you do not have to adapt to all customs of a new country- but definitely keep in mind to be respectful!
#3 Undergoing a mind shift
When visiting a new culture it is your job to undertake a little mind shift. Because it is very possible that in that country you might have to adjust yourself to different living conditions. You might be confronted with a lot of poverty, you will see and experience certain things that you might not approve of to 100%. Also, you might find yourself in a place where not everything is available everywhere at any given time, as you might be used to from home. The cool thing is though: The further you distance yourself from „European“ or „Western“ society the more new and exciting things you will discover. You will also learn that there are more (and sometimes even better) ways to do things.
#4 Become an observer
Especially when traveling I love to slip into the observational role and just take in everything from afar. What do people of this culture do differently than we know it? How do people interact with each other? How do they speak and move? How do they greet one another? This isn’t just extremely interesting and will help you understand the people behind the culture a bit better, but you can dive into the culture a bit deeper and maybe learn something for when you interact with the people.
#5 Reactions mirror our behavior
Try to consciously observe how people react to you and your behavior. How do they react to certain gestures, physical contact, jokes? Noticing these things will help you understand the people around you better and with time you will learn how to act in which types of situations which, in the end, will make you more confident being in the new culture.
#6 Doing some research
For me, a very important point to help counteract culture shock. Read up on the culture, do research, talk to the people. What is the history behind the country you are in? What is going on politically and economically? How does their system work? How do the people feel about their country and what are their worries and hardships? If you try to understand the people and their situation in life you will automatically understand the culture better.
#7 Learning some common phrases
Especially in a country like Morocco, where most people do speak French and often even English, people are extremely happy wenn you learn a few phrases in their native language. Here in Morocco for example, you will receive great appreciation and a big smile when you memorize only a few words in Arabic or in the Berber language (which is the indigenous language of Morocco, still spoken in many regions).
The big bonus: You connect with people on a much deeper level than you would with just a „Hey, how are you?“.
#8 Speaking to the people
When speaking to the people you will increasingly notice that your values and those of the person from the other culture hardly differ from each other. They too love their families and friends, they too strive to have a fulfilling life, they too wish for world peace and they too are following their own personal life paths. Listen to their stories, open your heart to them and you will be surprised as to how similar we all are despite the supposed huge differences between cultures and religions!
#9 Processing your experiences
During all this, especially when trying to overcome or counteract culture shock while traveling, I find it very important to really process your experiences. That means, talking to your friends and family and/or writing about your experiences. A blog is also perfect for this! In my opinion it is also very important to find a spot at your destination where you can draw back to, because in a world that is completely new to you it can all get a bit too much at times. Also constant traveling from place to place is nothing I would recommend in a completely new culture, as it is more difficult to let all the experiences sink in when you constantly switch places. Don’t overexert yourself with too many impressions.
As with anything in life: You get used to everything, it sometimes just takes a bit of time. So give yourself this time to dive into the new and exciting culture! In hindsight you will be so thankful to yourself for having opened your heart to a new culture.
Have you experienced some type of culture shock before? How did you manage?