There’s nothing worse than experiencing culture shock – that alien feeling of the unfamiliar, so much so that a new environment becomes stressful and completely disorientating. And it happens a lot when we travel – forced into new environments where the culture and behaviors are polar opposite to that of our own, and stripped of the comforts of home.
Luckily, there are a plethora of articles online with tips for dealing with culture shock, with advice for how to settle in abroad, all with helpful suggestions for adapting to constantly changing environments. Though while these articles are all incredibly useful for surviving outside our comfort zone, there is definitely something they all lack – the depth in understanding what culture shock actually is.
The concept of culture shock is analysed in depth in Helene Rybol’s new ebook, Culture Shock – A Practical Guide, as it is only when we can truly strip a concept down to it’s core and understand why it affects us and why we react in the way that we do, that we can be truly prepared to fight it.
Book Review: Culture Shock – A Practical Guide
Rybol’s e-book is a fantastic, practical guide to dealing with and overcoming culture shock, perfect for the first time traveler or the expectant expat alike.
Though even as an experienced traveler who has never had a difficult time dealing with culture shock, I found it to be an incredibly useful read having the concept of culture shock broken down to where is was easy to understand exactly what makes an environment overwhelming, and different strategies to deal with those scenarios if and when they do arise.
The ebook makes two assumptions;
1. That you have a guide book with emergency contact numbers and safety considerations or have otherwise researched that information; read the news, check government and embassy websites for travel safety recommendations, browse through travel and expat websites and forums;
2. You have researched health issues, spoken to a doctor and taken necessary precautions (vaccinations, malaria pills and so on).
Rybol’s e-book is incredibly in-depth, and examines culture shock thoroughly. It begins by outlining the different feelings travelers may experience when living through culture shock, and points out how these emotions usually only exist on the surface. But what lie’s beneath this emotional roller-coaster, Rybol asks?
The answer? The opportunity for growth.
Culture shock often occurs when reality doesn’t match with our expectations. “There is a dissonance on multiple levels that can feel threatening because some of our basic assumptions and abilities might be challenged.”
Though to get through culture shock, Rybol explains how to reconcile the information you’re getting with your reactions, thoughts (in the shape of preconceived notions, expectations, hopes, cultural background) and personal needs, and adapt your thoughts and reactions to that information as well.
She describes culture shock as a raw but exhilarating experience, one which brings us back to basics and reminds us of what is essential, and this positive perspective on culture shock is refreshing; a concept which is so often thought of and written about with negativity and contempt.
Rybol views culture shock as an opportunity for growth, and through her book she successfully teaches the reader how to harness their feelings to truly make the most out of this learning experience.
“Culture shock strips us from our comforts straight down to our core, puts us eye to eye with our basic needs and propels us into a moment of growth. We slowly begin to make sense of all the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. We learn about this place we didn’t know before, about people’s lives and we attempt to understand our relation to both”.
She breaks down the concept of culture shock even further by pointing out that the essential is often clouded by our own perception of everything surrounding it, and suggests that when you suddenly feel like you don’t control anything, and everything around you simply happens and you’re not quite sure how to manage, that it is important to realize what you can control; your behavior and attitude.
This simple realization is often clouded by the overwhelming emotions of anxiety when thrust into a situation which is stressful and new, though this is the surest way to meet material and emotional needs at a time when meeting those needs is not a given and you don’t necessarily have many resources to do so.
And it is in these simple realizations which are so often overlooked which makes this book so helpful and profound.
Culture Shock – A Practical Guide truly is that; a practical guide which identifies the issues surrounding culture shock, and strips down the concept to understand exactly what it is, then providing the reader with small steps they can take to handle their transitions in new and foreign environments.
The book teaches you how to shift your thinking and perspective, to harness things you may have previously taken for granted and now think of those things as skills, and to see your actions in a new light. Rybol tells us that the purpose with which you do something matters because it shifts the focus, and therefore affects the experience of whatever it is you’re doing.
The tips in the book are practical, and are aimed at helping the reader tap into their core, connect, trust themselves, and handle change. The book covers how to deal with craving comfort, how to process new information, how to cope without autopilot, how to deal with difficult situations, how to deal with alienation, and how to unite both worlds within yourself.
It sets you up with the necessary tools and knowledge to turn these tips into practice by using a simple strategy: acknowledge discomforts related to culture shock: emotional, physical, psychological, then ask yourself (and/or others) questions to develop an awareness around whatever it is that is making you feel “off”. This will help you understand the situation a little better and decide what steps to take to make you feel better.
And here-in lies the brilliance of this guide; simple, yet very practical, and incredibly thorough. Articles with tips on dealing with culture shock plague the web – it’s a popular topic on and offline, though few resources really dive into understanding the concept and providing an answer for the “why”.
Rybol’s book addresses this “why” – why does culture shock affect us? Why do we crave the comforts of home?, and then dives into defining exactly what it takes to battle these scenarios head on.
She covers culture shock for when you’re traveling, when you’re relocating, addresses how to create new comforts, how to let go of preconceived notions, and how to process your reactions to an overload of new information. She covers how to relax in a situation which is inherently foreign, and presents the reader with everyday problems travelers face when arriving in a new, exotic land, proceeding to then provide us with the answer to “so what do you do?”
She also points out how humor and kindness can provide an incredibly valuable tool to overcoming situations of culture shock, and provides a detailed analysis of how to use these tools to benefit you in any situation.
After having read this book you will know how to reconsider your definition of home. You know how to broaden your sense of self to be able to connect with and understand your own motivations, goals and perceptions. You will be in a better position to understand others, and will know which qualities will put you in the best position to deal with culture shock most.
Culture shock has many ups and downs, and when experiencing the lows, small reminders about what you can do to help yourself feel better come in incredibly handy.
For this reason, I highly recommend everyone download this guide.