After moving to Taiwan the first few months should be new and exciting. Finding an apartment and a new place to work and getting accustomed to your surroundings will take up most of your time. You will be too busy and there’ll be too much new stimuli to allow you to miss home. But once you settle in there is a good potential for you to feel a little culture shock.
Get Ready, it’s Coming…
Knowing how to deal with culture shock will make your time living and working in Taiwan much smoother. The first thing to know about culture shock is how to recognize when you’re feeling culture shock.
For you drinkers out there it feels like a nagging hangover. If you don’t drink then it feels a little bit like being depressed. Basically, you just feel tired, irritable and you miss your home. The one nice thing about culture shock, unlike depression, is that it’s rather easy to recognize when you have it, admit that you have it, and to do something to feel better.
1. Find Someone to Talk to
I mentioned in an earlier post that having a roommate when you first move to Taiwan can help you save money, but it also comes with another benefit. Having a western roommate can greatly ease the effects of culture shock. The ability to just vent to someone in your own native language is something that is often taken for granted. While at home you have your entire peer group to talk with on almost a daily basis, but after moving to Taiwan you will not have that same luxury at first, and a roommate can help mitigate this loss.
2. Widen Your Sphere of Comfort
The ideas that I will go into now, while different, all try to accomplish the same thing. They help you deal with culture shock by getting you to open yourself up to new things.
Many people tend to simplify their lifestyle when moving to a new country, especially at first. They keep the same routines, and they don’t venture far from where they live or work. There is nothing wrong with that, and it’s a nice safe way to get accustomed to new surroundings, but if your comfort zone is too small, it can make these effects of culture shock stronger, from my experience. When I first moved to Taiwan I could walk from my apartment to my job in under 10 minutes.
It was so easy to never leave that area. I had to make a conscious effort to seek out new people and new things.
3. Learn Chinese
A good way to help ease the longing for returning to your safety net of home, and to branch out from your new smaller sphere of comfort, is to have a language exchange or two.
A language exchange, or LE, is where you meet with someone, and they help you with your Chinese while you help them with their English. They come in all shapes and sizes.
Many LE’s are just a disguise for setting up a blind date, but not of them are. I had 2 very helpful LE’s my first year here, and most of my Chinese ability, which is still sadly lacking, came from them. Some people want to set up long term classes, while others just want to meet a couple of times.
4. Go See New Things
Another option for opening up Taiwan is simply to explore a little. If you moved to Taipei it’s really easy to just hop on the MRT and take it to a new stop.
After living here for around 7 years, I still wander around new neighborhoods. It’s a great way to find cool little cafes and restaurants.
If you moved to another city, buses are cheap, and scooters are convenient. And if you really feel adventurous, take a short train ride to somewhere new.
Basically, try going to somewhere that you don’t see daily as it can give you that original feeling of excitement and exploration that you had when you first moved to Taiwan.
5. Feed Your Roots
The only other thing that I really end up doing to fight off the random bouts of culture shock is to spend a day surrounded by foreign things.
I basically lock myself in my apartment with a bunch of western food and watch some American movies. Coke, Doritos, pizza, and any over the top action movies that I can get my hands on are usually enough to let my mind relax a little. I cannot tell you how many times this has lifted my spirits.
Whether you move to Taiwan to work or study, it will be a new experience. You will experience some form of culture shock. But remember, it’s temporary, and there are plenty of ways to manage it.
Making new friends and exploring new places far outweigh the short-term discomfort of culture shock, and are actually great ways to get over a random bout of culture shock. If you have some travel experience and deal with culture shock in another way, please share it in the comments section below!