Get Ready For the Shock of Your Life:
Culture Shock and How to Beat It

One trial most teachers go through when teaching English in Japan is dealing with culture shock. Almost every English teacher experiences it in some form or another. The severity, how long it lasts and how quickly you get through its phases depends on your personality and how you deal with change.

The Bubble and Phases of Culture Shock

Nine out of ten teachers who go to Japan for their first time to teach English get to spend at least a little time in the bubble. What’s the bubble you ask? It’s the first phase of culture shock. It’s like Disney Land but bigger. It’s a feeling of happiness and wonder. It goes something like this...

Everything is new and everything is sooo wonderful. They (meaning the Japanese) can do no wrong. They are all beautiful, friendly and have the best intentions for me. There are so many things to discover and life is exciting - Nothing can touch me-- problems of home fade. The smells of Japanese cuisine, wet streets, freshly baked bread, fish markets. The sounds of shop owners yelling “irashaimasei” … their incredible attention to detail…the way they present their goods for sale.

It’s so refreshingly different and exciting. It’s magical. You can’t wait to roll out of your futon, fire-up the kerosene heater and start the day. It culminates in a “I want to stay here forever” mentality and many times extends to “I want to become one of them,” or at least “I want to speak just like them.”

This mindset is the bubble and the kick-off to the culture shock parade. Considering for the lucky it can last 6 months or more, it’s a whole lot cheaper than vacationing 6 months in Hawaii. But alas, all good things must end. And it does.

Just like that certain day in your childhood when you suddenly realize, “I’m not a kid anymore,” so also in Japan this day comes. The laws of physics have a counterpart in the world of emotions. What goes up most come down. And so does the high. The bubble breaks and down we go.


Culture Shock and The Next Phase

How you deal with this phase of usually determines how long you stay in Japan. Some basic characteristics of this phase of culture shock are: loneliness, desire to return home, feelings of being overwhelmed or lost in the new culture and insecurity.

Wonder gets replaced with irritation. Blaming the new culture for problems you face instead of overcoming them becomes a focus. These are just a few of the symptoms of culture shock. Some also get physical symptoms and of course, not everyone experiences these problems.

Most personalize all this and fail to see what’s really happening. Which is, the mind is temporarily being overwhelmed by a sea of change. These feelings are the natural outcome of the mind as it grapples with and tries to solve the problem of integration and adjustment.

This also is the fork in the road and where the path divides. Usually 2 things happen. The teacher decides to “fix” the problem of integration by getting back on a jet or decides to “stick it out”.


Phase 3 of Culture Shock

Those who don’t call Delta, experience phase 3. The mind being one heck of a machine for solving problems rapidly takes it in and begins the Herculean task of integrating all the newness of Japan. Instead of constantly feeling overwhelmed, the new teacher starts developing confidence and familiarity. Feelings of isolation get replaced as you build out your network. The blaming Japan for everything under the sun starts to slow-down. The “why can’t they be more like my countrymen” gives way to an appreciation for Japan.

Which Group will you fit in?

When teachers head to the east to try their hand at teaching, inevitably some will stay for decades others just days. What separates these groups of teachers? Mostly a spirit of adventure that embraces change, tenacity, the desire to understand and appreciate something new and probably a little bit of luck.


Survival Tips for Dealing With Culture Shock

  • Realize that pointing fingers and blaming, depletes energy and wastes time.
  • Develop your network of friends more. Have some beer with peers but not to the point of cutting yourself off with the Japanese community that surrounds you.
  • Be thankful for what you have. Innocent rot in jail cells. There are millions without enough to eat. So get a grip. At least you're getting paid.
  • Exercise and vitamin B supplements are excellent stress busters.
  • Remember you’re not alone and everyone goes through it. Ask co-workers & friend how they best coped with it.
  • If a lot of your troubles are coming from the inability to speak Japanese, buckle down and study. Get some study partners lined-up where you exchange English for Japanese.

  • Blow off a little steam and search for some answers at Crisscross!

      Return to Home From Culture Shock
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