The pangs of culture shock
How to identify and avoid culture shock and homesickness when you're an international students.
So, you have gone through the entire process of visa application and you were successful in obtaining that precious visa! As you pack your bags with all the new clothes you’ve bought, you try to hum a tune of contentment.
You paint a wonderful picture of clear blue skies, rolling green hills, crystal clear springs and majestic snow-capped mountains in your head just like you Googled it. Congratulations and welcome to the Land of the Long White Cloud!
When I first arrived here in New Zealand, these were the things I was expecting and yeah, it’s true. However, there are some important things you cannot always find over the internet. You must get here to experience it first.
And boy, based on experience, there is no newbie I knew (including myself) that was immune to this menace – culture shock! And what’s more terrible is that it comes with its menacing sidekick, homesickness.
These two would really cripple you when it gets a hold of you and this blog hopes that throughout the entire time you are here in New Zealand, you can identify it and make a quick detour to avoid it. Here are some tips that could eventually help you combat these so you can appreciate your new life here in this beautiful country:
1. Research as much as possible
Before coming here, be sure to research what the country is all about. Try and learn from the tremendous amount of information you can get from the internet, books, and first-hand experiences from people and friends who have settled here successfully.
Try and visit websites from government offices and I am sure, New Zealand has tons of friendly ways to deliver that information to you. If your job needs a registration from a council, better research on that so you will know how to go about securing that.
Other things you should research about are your working rights, driving rules, available jobs, mobile phones, internet connection, banks, your new school and most of all, the prices of accommodation and the cost of living. Have a clear map in your mind so you’ll be prepared.
2. Be real!
I know it’s hard! New Zealand is a very beautiful place but it also has its own set of flaws like in any other country. Unreasonable expectations would lead you straight to culture shock.
Although Kiwis are remarkable for their open friendliness and hospitality, do not expect that everyone you meet on the streets would bid you a happy morning and open their houses for you to have a cup of tea with them. Remove that picture perfect cloudless blue skies in your head because you don’t see them every day.
In fact as I write this blog, it’s raining and forecast shows that it will still rain tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and God knows when it will stop. Not all feijoas are sweet, if you know what I mean.
3. Make friends and single out the best
Being alone in a foreign land makes you feel uneasy and vulnerable. Since humans are social beings, we tend to look for a person whom we can call a friend. This “friend” would usually be from somebody back at home who shares the same language as you do.
As you go along and create meaningful memories, more friends join you and eventually you would create a sort of your own “NZ family”. Don’t forget to try and learn to make friends with people outside your own ethnicity too!
Kiwis are a particular bunch of people who don't have any problems striking a friendly conversation. New Zealand is a multicultural country and you will learn a lot from this huge amount of people and the traditions that they bring.
Explore your school, get to know your friendly staff, talk with your tutors and they will surely help you cope up with your new life. These people are a valuable source of support that will pull you up when culture shock and homesickness take a tight grip on you. I find Toi Ohomai’s support services very helpful.
“Adapt” is not synonymous to “change”. We cannot change who we are overnight. What I meant with adapt is to be flexible. You will find a myriad of things that Kiwis do (or believe) that may seem different from what we are accustomed to in our own different countries.
If amongst your conversation with a Kiwi and a strange slang was thrown to you, just smile and clarify what it is. You will get to understand them as time goes by. Be prepared to contribute and receive, allow yourself to make random mistakes and learn to laugh and learn from it. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t be too scared to make mistakes. It’s part of the game.
5. Keep that line of communication open at home
When you’re still suffering from culture shock and homesickness is hugging you to death, open that good old social media or ring home. Catch up with the news and the latest gossips and tell your family how you feel.
Get in touch with your own cultural community in your locality too and talk to those people who have experienced the same things too. They will help you squeeze through the culture shock which is culturally suitable for you.
6. Be busy. Travel, work, and study!
One last word of advice, and I think this would be the best one to sum it up: Be busy. Travel, work, and study! As the saying goes, “An idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. As long as you are busy, you will never find yourself sitting by the window, looking outside and wondering why the heck you are here.
You are now in New Zealand. Enjoy and make the most out of it!
About the contributors
Philip is currently studying at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Rotorua for a Level 8 Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Professional Studies (Mentoring and Leadership). He has a Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology and is a physician with specialty training in anatomic and clinical pathology. He earned his Masters of Science degree in the Philippines. He is currently finishing his PhD through distance learning alongside his NZ qualification.