How to deal with culture shock in an Asian country

19 August 2013

For most South Africans, whether you are in finance, engineering, an English teacher or a student on exchange, moving to an Asian country is daunting to say the least. On the home front, school pupils learn history about the Dark Age, Europe and the World Wars, about Christopher Columbus and the rise of what we know today as the United States of America. We watch British comedies, sport coverage from Australasia and we learn about the Amazon jungle in South America. We meet Africans from all over the continent in our back yard and we are tested on what Ghandi did for Indians in our own country.

We learn very little about Asia. For this reason, many South Africans are ill-equipped for the culture shock of visiting or moving to an Asian country. Even in the most westernized of Asian societies, most things are different; from the local food to the culture to the weather. But moving to an Asian country can be the most rewarding experience if you just let it. Naturally, each state is completely unique in language, customs, food and governance. There are a few things to keep in mind, however, when starting afresh.

Change the way you view things. When moving to a new and exciting land, take an open mind with you. Many grow frustrated when they move to an Asian country; with the communication barrier, the food or the public education system. Some forget that they chose to move to this foreign land to work or study. You are the foreigner. It is not the other way around. Make an effort to adjust and embrace the differences, even though things may work a little differently to what you are used to.

Bangkok Floating Market Bangkok Floating Market

Have respect for the culture and traditions. And, in turn, you will earn respect for your own culture. Probably the biggest challenge when moving to a new country is the difference in customs and values. If you try to understand and show a little enthusiasm about the local people around you and the way they do things, you will notice an immediate attitude change towards you.  

Be patient and reap the rewards. With patience will come the most wonderful memories, experiences and opportunities. Soon, you will be sad to leave. You’ll miss your favourite local dish, your friends, the excellent public transport and the dedication of your co-workers or contemporaries. Perhaps, you’ll never leave.

Get involved in the community. Most importantly, make an effort to get involved. Some of you may have a limited time in this new place, so make it count. Learn a little of the local language, join a sports club or an activity group and go to all the staff or department dinners. By finding common ground where you can, you will find daily life becomes a lot easier.

It is often not a case of overcoming cultural challenges but of accepting them. To quote Henry Miller, a well-known American writer: “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” And after living in an Asian country for any period of time, it would be hard to disagree with him.

By: Philippa Francis

Philippa Francis

Over the last few years, I have fallen in love with travel and I am not sure I will be able to stop, except for my other great love; writing. After studying journalism at Rhodes and Stellenbosch Universities, I wanted to get a taste of the bigger world. I have worked all sorts of jobs and I have saved. I have ‘bused’ around Europe and backpacked around south-east Asia. I have seen magical sights and met wonderful people from all walks of life.