In our last post we looked at the fact, that expats are subjected to a high level of stress due to a variety of reasons, which could lead to the development of mental health issues.
Today, we will be looking at the well- known phenomenon of “Culture Shock”.
But what exactly is Culture Shock?
If we look at a definition from the Oxford Dictionary, then Culture Shock can be defined as “the feeling of disorientation, experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life or set of attitudes”.
Culture Shock might evidently hit you head on during your first few days in Ghana, or its symptoms may slowly simmer and brew under the surface for a while, but if it eventually does hit, it can even make the most seasoned traveler wish to pack his bags and head back home to a familiar environment.
Expats and long-term traveler might have an even higher risk of “contracting” Culture Shock due to the prolonged time they might spend in Ghana.
7 Symptoms of Culture Shock and how to recognize them
Culture Shock can rare its ugly head in many different ways and symptoms ultimately will vary with different personalities. But here is a run-down of the most commonly experienced symptoms that can accompany Culture Shock:
- Loneliness, deep sadness and feeling of isolation
- Feeling homesick and longing for a familiar environment
- General fatigue and malaise
- Restlessness, a lack of sleep or an excessive need to sleep
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite (a.k.a. emotional eating)
- Anger and frustration at yourself and others
- Loss of identity and questioning your decision to move
Culture Shock comes in stages
Even though Culture Shock can sometimes manifest itself quite strongly, keep in mind that it is a natural and temporary phenomenon, which can be overcome with time.
Realizing that culture shock comes in different stages is essential to working through it effectively.
How long each phase will last, varies greatly with each individual person. We all have our own personalities and we deal with live changes according to what we have experienced and learned before.
So let’s look at the different stages more closely:
The Pre-departure Stage:
During this initial stage, you might experiences excitement and/ or anxiety. Certain hopes and expectations are made up in your mind before travel, which might or might not be met at a later time.
The “Honeymoon” Stage:
This is the fun part! Everything is new and interesting and you might love the differences in food, language, faces and behaviors. Everything seems just so exciting and exotic.
The Confrontation with Reality- or “the Honeymoon- is –over”- Phase:
At this point you may start to realize the differences in cultures on a new level; communication might become a barrier, some familiar tasks require now assistance or might take much more time than usual, homesickness and the longing for a familiar environment might start to develop.
The “Hitting Rock Bottom”, the “Negotiation” and “Adaption” Phase:
This stage is painful, but necessary. It determines whether you will be able to adjust to the encountered challenges and whether you will be able to negotiate new terms and expectations.
So what are some of the things that you can do to help you go through the motions
Here are our top 10 tips to avoid Expat Burnout in Ghana:
- Do your homework in advance
Be prepared and learn as much as possible about your new destination before travelling. This not only reduces your chances of encountering a negative surprise, but also helps you feel more prepared and confident upon arrival.
Read travel guides, scout the internet and join a local expat network. Local expats will be especially helpful. They might provide you with the most accurate information for your specific questions, because they might have encountered similar obstacles before and found a good solution that worked out well for them.
When doing your research, think about topics such as cultural aspects, food, transportation, local sporting activities, local expat groups, and grocery shops around your accommodation.
Don’t forget to include healthcare on your list. We advise to get familiar with the local healthcare system and available medial facilities well in advance. Have a plan in place where to get safe quality care quickly. This can save you a lot of stress when you are not feeling well. (Our Special Tip: Contact us for any inquiries on healthcare in Ghana and sign up for our next medical orientation tour to get an insider view into selected medical Facilities in Accra.)
- Be realistic- expect down times
Acknowledge the fact and be prepared that you might encounter times where you might feel like packing your bags to go home. We are all humans and sometimes we have better days than others. But it is important to differentiate if this is just a temporary phase that can be overcome with time and a few interventions, or whether it truly is so bad that returning home might be the only solution for you at this point.
- Practice self- care and be patient with yourself
Taking care of yourself and your personal needs is not selfish, but rather an absolute necessity to lead a healthy and satisfying life. Unfulfilled and suppressed needs can lead to a lot of frustration, anger and bitterness. And if you are still feeling guilty about the thought of putting yourself first, then have in mind that when you take good care of yourself, then you have certainly more energy and strength to take care of those around you.
Being a new expat can mean that initially you might have a harder time to practice good self- care. Conditions that you might need to help to take care of your personal needs might not be available at your new destination. But that does not mean that you cannot make your new situation work out for you.
- Connect with friends and family at home regularly
In today’s age of modern technology, social media platforms and online chats, connecting with your loved ones around the globe is as simple as meeting face-to face. Make it a habit to find a regular time to connect with your friends and families at home. This will help you nourish your old relationships; lets you catch up with your loved ones and can help you overcome times of loneliness and homesickness.
- Join a local group
Do you have a specific hobby that you liked practicing at home? Chances are that you might find a local group that shares your interests. Ghana’s expat network caters for a large variety of different hobbies, such as Yoga, cycling, walking, arts and crafts, music, beading and many more.
By joining a local group, you will not only have an excuse to leave your house but you might also make new friends and get important connections.
- Explore town
Make it a habit to regularly leave the sanctuary of your accommodation and explore something new. Set yourself goals of what you would like to achieve (e.g. exploring a new market in search of fresh produce, how to find your way to a nearby coffee shop, explore a new beach site every other weekend,….you get the picture).
Don’t feel shy asking any of your Ghanaian friends or co-workers for tips and directions. The best tips are not always found in your travel guide.
- Make new friends
Be open to new connections and who knows, you might just find new opportunities to find yourself joining a new yoga group in town or get busy supporting a local charity organization.
- Sleep well, eat healthy and exercise regularly
Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Well refreshed you might just realize that yesterday’s mountains of obstacles are actually just little hills, which can be climbed with time. Get out and busy and eat a well- balanced diet. Your body and mind will surely thank you for it. Use the opportunity of an abandonment of fresh fruits and vegetables and experiment with new flavors and dishes. You might even take a local cooking class and widen your culinary horizon.
- Write a diary
Writing a journal or diary has been proven to be very effective and therapeutic when dealing with Culture Shock. If you have the time, energy and creativity of a writer you can even start a travel blog and keep your fellow friends and family in the loop with your adventures.
Whichever style you settle on, ensure that you keep your records well. Maybe six months down the line, you will accidentally fall over your early notes and shake your head or even smile at the thoughts and feelings you had during an undoubtedly stressful time. Realize how far you have come since then and celebrate your achievements.
- Embrace the differences
Try and be open to a new way of seeing, doing and feeling things. Realize that there are many different ways to achieve a desired outcome. Teach your children first hand to be open to other cultures, languages, believes and traditions. Use the opportunity to get a fresh look at old learned habits and thoughts and if after all this you still think it really doesn’t work for you that way,….smile to yourself, knowing that probably you are smiled at for your habits many times, too.
Look out for Part Three in our “Mental Health for Expats” Series on “Children, too, can experience Culture Shock” which will be coming soon.
We would love to hear from your personal experiences as an expat in Ghana.
Did you experience symptoms of Culture Shock after relocation to Ghana?
What strategies have helped you deal with challenging situations you might have encountered?
Or are you currently still stuck in a particular situation?
Leave us a comment or get in touch if you are looking for professional help to deal with your current situation. We have partnered up with well- known mental health specialists in Ghana and can help you connect.