Some more thoughts on the shadow side of teaching abroad

Summary: Culture shock! Whether you like it or not it's going to happen to you or it's happening to you at this moment.

This is a follow up to my previous article on "Some thoughts on the shadow side of teaching abroad". Are you planning to teach abroad? Are you teaching abroad presently? Well, you'd better take care. Whether you like it or not it's going to happen to you or it's happening to you at this moment. It's something to be taken seriously and not to be pooh-poohed. What am I referring to? Well, it's culture shock. Perhaps, you've heard about it or read something on it. It affects long-term visitors rather than short-term visitors who relocate to foreign countries that are culturally different from their own to live and/or take up a job. It's unavoidable so please take care.

Why does it happen? Well, it has to do with our particular circumstances and situation. First, we are removed from our own culture, and the supports and the things that sustain and keep us sane. Secondly, we are immersed in a new culture completely different from our own. Thirdly, we are constantly dealing with the unfamiliar. The combination of one, two, and three is culture shock.

For all intents and purposes, culture shock is considered a disease. It has a cause, symptoms, and a prescribed treatment. It has five stages. The five stages are the Honeymoon Stage, the Rejection Stage, the Regression Stage, the Recovery Stage, and the Reverse Culture Shock Stage. The fifth stage, the Reverse Culture Shock Stage, has to do with the experiences one has upon one's return to one's own native land and the subsequent re-acculturation process.

Culture shock can cause a gamut of psychological and physical reactions that range from euphoria to stress to anxiety to hostility. The symptoms can vary in intensity and duration. Therefore, some persons may have much stronger and more intense reactions to culture shock than others will experience.

Culture shock has implications for most EFL teachers who are moving to or have already moved to teach in foreign countries that are culturally different from their own. If it's not dealt with on a positive level, it can otherwise bring on an abrupt end to a sojourn abroad and lead to an unexpected and perhaps unwanted early return home. I have seen it happen. Perhaps, you have too.

What should one do? Well, read up on it. Learn to recognize the symptoms. Keep a log. That's what I did. Write down your feelings and reactions. It'll help to give you some perspective on your situation and get a grip on things. You might find it helpful to record the way you deal and interact with others. Are you reacting or over-reacting to others? Are you dealing with your feelings on a positive or negative level? Please remember to keep in mind that culture shock goes hand and hand with the overseas experience. So, don't take it personally. You're not losing your mind. Remember to look after yourself. Develop a routine. Eat properly, exercise, and get plenty of rest. Focus on your goals. Most importantly, think positively. It can help you ride the roller coaster of culture shock and deal with the cultural bumps both inside and outside the classroom.

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