2018 Summer Josephyne King Temple Japan Temple Summer

Culture Shock pt. 2: Getting through It

So if you didn’t read my first post about how I experienced culture shock, here’s the run down: I’m an intern in Tokyo and I experienced culture shock, which surprised me.

As the second part of reflections on the topic, this post is going to be about getting over culture shock. Sometimes, culture shock can be an actual shock, over in 7 minutes. Other times, it can take months. Whatever the case, there’s always a light at the end of the shorter-than-you-think tunnel. So, before you go anywhere, learn a few ways to deal with the shock. Here’s how I did:

Step One: Recognition

Culture shock will most likely hit you in the first place where you really start realizing you’re not “home”, and that may not be some new and exciting place. If you’re in an internship, it most likely will be at your workplace Or at least it was for me: the first day of work was really when it hit me. I’m interning in a company where 98% of the employees are Japanese. For my first day, it felt like there were hours where the only sounds I heard were people typing. People tell you that no one talks on trains here, similar to many other countries (not the US, as many of you reading may know). What no one tells you, though, is that the “be quiet” rule extends beyond trains.

I’m not saying that Tokyo is this eerily stark-silent city. It’s just so quiet compared to other cities I’ve lived in like Philly and London. I spent the night after my first day on the job and half of the next day trying to figure out why I suddenly wish I wasn’t there, why I felt this pang in my chest if I thought about going back to work or riding the train. After hours of internal deliberation, I finally accepted that it was culture shock.

Once you realize you’re experiencing culture shock, it lifts half the weight off of your chest. Recognition can last from a months-long experience to maybe just a few days-long experience, because once you figure it all out, it’s easier and faster to move through it.

Step 2: Respond to Your Stress

Now, this is probably specific to me, but I need to reason myself out of being stressed or sad so that I can actually take action to get past whatever it is that’s upsetting me. You might be different. Before going abroad, really ask yourself how you respond to stress and what works for you. Even if you don’t get culture shock, knowing how to deal with stress will help you a lot. 

For me, I started by asking myself exactly what was making me so uncomfortable. That was easy to find out after my strangely quiet work day. I had to remind myself why that makes me uncomfortable, and then start listing any other thing that was contributing to my culture shock (ie. the language barrier). Anything that stops you from feeling as if you don’t belong in your temporary home–list them out. It really helps to know exactly what upsets you for…

Step 3: Point Out the Awesome

This is probably the most important step. Honestly, you might even be able to skip to this step. No matter what makes you uncomfortable, no matter what is different or strange to you, there will be 10 more things that are new and make you actually excited to be where you are.

A Typical, Cheap Work Lunch
Spoiler alert: most of what I love here is food, like this cheap and yummy lunch à la 7-Eleven and my work’s vending machine

For me, I was already loving:

  1. Sushi need I say more?
  2. Ramen bars where have these been all my life?!
  3. Udon barsimilar to point 2
  4. Non-SEPTA public transport seriously, why does SEPTA pose so much hassle
  5. Conbini EVERYWHERE I can even get sushi here (see point 1)
  6. How nice everyone is! I once had a very nice man take me 5 blocks out of HIS way because he saw a poor lost American
  7. Seaweed snacks I am addicted
  8. Fashion everyone looks so put together all the time
  9. Little random fairs everywhere street food is amazing no matter the country
  10. The Umbrellas ok, stay with me, but they are so cute here! And they really help rain or shine
  11. Sushi
  12. Sushi
  13. Just all the food, really
  14. Traditional Shrines they bring you peace and new culture
Meiji Shrine Entrance
The Meiji Shrine entrance, right in the middle of bustling Tokyo

The point is, no matter how long your culture shock lasts, even if it lasts for the entire time you’re here (which it won’t, don’t worry), keep reminding yourself of the reasons you DO want to be here. You’ll find that culture shock just subsides a bit everyday. Mine lasted about a month. Whether or not you experience full on culture shock, you will get a little homesick or feel a little sad sometimes. Just walk outside and find a new thing to fall in love with.

So, now that we know how to get through the shock, shall we head to work?


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