Culture Shock: Why It Happens & What To Do About It
Culture shock is a pretty common experience felt when you move to or study in a new country. When you’re suddenly surrounded by different sights, smells, landscapes, and languages, it can be hard to process all this new information.
But even though lots of people get culture shock, it’s not always easy to deal with. If your symptoms don’t pass in a few days, you might start to feel worried or even regretful about your decisions. But fortunately, there are things you can do to counteract culture shock here in the UK.
Find out all about UK culture shock, including symptoms and what to do if you experience culture shock.
What is culture shock?
Culture shock happens when you’re suddenly plunged into an unfamiliar setting or situation, such as moving to the UK from another country. It can happen on a short trip or holiday, but it’s more likely if you’ve decided to move abroad for a longer period of time.
Culture shock is characterised by feelings of frustration, disorientation, and sometimes even resentment towards your new home. You might lose sight of why you moved here, or forget about the positive sides of your experience.
In most cases, culture shock fades after you’ve become more accustomed to your new surroundings, met a few friendly faces, and started to feel more settled.
10 symptoms of culture shock
Unsure if you have culture shock? Here are ten typical culture shock symptoms to look out for.
1. Feeling disoriented
Disorientation is a common symptom of culture shock, probably because everything feels so unfamiliar. Everything from your front door to your bed to your commute is different, so it’s very normal to feel a little lost in your new surroundings.
2. Feeling isolated
Even if you’ve moved to the UK with a spouse, partner, or friend, it’s still possible to feel isolated when you’re far away from other friends and family. This can be especially profound if you don’t live near a familiar or comfortable community.
Whether you’re buying a bus pass or doing your laundry, you’re likely to spot lots of little differences in the UK compared with how you’re used to doing things. This can be very frustrating, especially if simple tasks start to feel difficult or even unachievable.
4. Not wanting to go out
If feelings of frustration and isolation build, it can lead to you staying at home more often to avoid leaving your comfort zone. It’s OK to hunker down for a few days if it helps these feelings pass, but head out and get some fresh air when you feel up to it. Grabbing a coffee at your local cafe is a great place to start.
Feeling homesick is very natural, and it isn’t always a symptom of culture shock. But combined with some of these other symptoms, it could be. Try to remember that it’s normal to miss your hometown (and especially those friends and family you’ve left behind) when you move to the UK, even if you’ve been looking forward to the change.
6. Sleeping problems
Switching timezones can often contribute to culture shock, especially if you’ve travelled through lots of them. It takes time for your mind and body to adjust to a new timezone, so you might have trouble sleeping for a few nights. Try to give yourself some space to adjust (even if it means daytime napping) if you find yourself awake at all hours.
Feelings of anxiety often coincide with culture shock, especially if you’re feeling unsettled, nervous, and possibly sleep-deprived. Know that almost everyone goes through phases of anxiety at times, and it’s very normal to feel this way after a big life change. There’s also mental health support you can access in the UK, whether through a doctor, your university, or your workplace.
8. Difficulty concentrating
If you’re working or studying in the UK, you might find it difficult to concentrate due to your overwhelming feelings. If this is the case, speak to your tutor or manager. They should be able to provide extra support to help you stay on track.
9. Feeling hostile towards local culture
Culture shock can make some people feel resentful or even angry towards their new home. This might feel alarming, especially if you’ve been looking forward to experiencing British life and culture. But these feelings will soon subside, and can even be a sign that you’re establishing a new positive relationship with the culture you’ve left behind.
10. Building confidence
If you’ve felt uneasy through the first few days or weeks of your life in the UK, a sudden small show of confidence might be the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for. As your confidence and resilience grows, you’ll know that your culture shock is starting to fade away, so you can embrace UK life more fully.
What to do if you have culture shock in the UK
If these feelings sound familiar, it’s important to know that culture shock is a well-known experience that affects lots of people. Additionally, there are plenty of ways to overcome culture shock and embrace your new surroundings.
Here are eight ways to deal with culture shock in the UK.
1. Remember it will pass
Culture shock isn’t permanent. You might go through phases of frustration and worry, but this is normal no matter where you live. Try to remember that these feelings will subside, especially if you take steps to tackle them.
2. Call home
Feeling homesick? Sometimes a familiar voice is all you need to give you a little more confidence. Call a friend or family member either back home or in the UK for a catch up. If you want to, tell them how you’ve been feeling so they can offer support and advice.
3. Carry photos with you
Keep photos of home with you in your wallet or purse so you can glance at them whenever you want to. It might also be helpful to carry a list of reasons why you wanted to move to the UK in the first place, as a reminder of your goals.
4. Find a familiar food spot
The UK has a great food scene, with cuisines from all over the world. Check out local cafes and restaurants to find a place that does fantastic, familiar food. Treat yourself to a meal there whenever you find yourself feeling homesick.
Regular exercise is great for your mental health. Join the gym, go walking in your local park, or find a team to join so you can play your favourite sport. This is also a great way to meet local people and establish yourself in the community.
6. Speak to your classmates or colleagues
On the whole, British people are friendly and helpful. Telling a trusted friend, colleague, or classmate how you’re feeling can help you offload the burden and get some support from those around you. If you don’t feel comfortable expressing your feelings to them yet, consider contacting your student support or HR team, who are there to help you adjust.
7. Find your faith community
If religion is an important part of your life, finding your faith community may help you settle in the UK. Most places of worship publish their service details online, so you can find the right community for you.
8. Seek mental health support
If culture shock is getting you down, or your symptoms are lingering longer than you’d hoped, seek mental health support in the UK. Universities and some workplaces have mental health support teams, and you can speak to your GP when you’re registered. Find out more about getting NHS treatment in the UK.
Do you experience culture shock?
Moving to a new country often has its ups and downs. But learning more about what to expect from life in the UK can help you prepare and reduce the impact of culture shock. At Bloom, we’re here to support you to live a happy, healthy life in the UK, by offering the tools and information you need.
Check out some of our articles to learn more about life in the UK: