Amidst the preparation, and seemingly endless excitement is a little something in all travelers that eventually creeps up carrying a dark cloud with it. This dark cloud, for some is easily brushed off and the trip is carried on as planned, but for others, the presence of this cloud darkens their whole trip. The cloud, although in Costa Rica’s rainy season could literally be a dark cloud, is culture shock. Let’s face it, we have all skimmed the pamphlets, sat through the meetings, and are familiar with this “sickness” that affects upwards to 80% of travelers abroad, none of us actually know what it is. All it takes to realice that you have been infected is a thought or series of thoughts that sounds a lot like “in America we do this…”. If this is happening to you, stop, you have culture shock.
The good news: you will survive. The bad news: you have to push through or else risk ruining your trip. All dramatic analogies set aside, this gloominess wanes over a majority of travelers and students who study abroad and can be anything from home sicknesses, or frustrations with the particular country’s culture all the way to possible physical illness. Students and travelers should understand that culture shock comes in many different forms, and does not always affect everyone. Often, culture shock is viewed as the slump that occurs after about a week or so in your country of choice where you have had your fun and now feel the need to go back home to something you know and feel comfortable with. Although this may be true for many travelers, it can happen at any time, and is often more of a marathon full of ups and downs than a straight sprint.
After a long first six days in San Jose, Costa Rica, my housemate admitted that she was feeling a little down. Understanding her situation I asked her what triggered this sudden somberness. Despite the busy past days, our one day of reflection and relaxation gave her time to reflect on what she was missing at home and increased her anxiety. This experience is contrary to many
including myself. In order to avoid too much stress I need time set aside every day to reflect and fully absorb the experiences that I have had. No matter how you deal with the blues while abroad, remember that you are not alone. Find people that you can talk to, or take time to journal. Most importantly, find what makes you happy, whether it is a packed schedule, an hour of reflection, or a Disney movie at the end of each day, and use it to help you cope with the stressors of living amongst a new culture. My advice for you: don’t be shocked by culture shock! Identify your symptoms and see what you can do to raise your spirits, and of course, have an absolutely wonderful time abroad!