Culture Shock: A Guide for Au Pairs Navigating New Cultures

/Culture Shock: A Guide for Au Pairs Navigating New Cultures

culture shock when traveling the usa

When you visit a new place for the first time, feeling disoriented and overwhelmed is a common experience as you adjust to a new location. This phenomenon is known as culture shock

Culture shock affects people all over the world, and fortunately, it’s usually a temporary phase that diminishes as you get used to your new home. So, what is cultural shock, and how does it affect au pairs? In this article, we’ll offer a culture shock definition and provide some tips to help you adjust to your new surroundings.

What is a Culture Shock?

Culture shock is a phenomenon experienced when leaving home to explore a new country. The culture shock definition in sociology is often described as feelings of confusion, disorientation, and even anxiety when exposed to an unfamiliar culture. 

This can happen when visiting a new city on vacation for the first time, known as trip shock, or when moving to a new country long-term. People might personally define culture shock differently, as their experience depends on the intensity of the transition. Greater distance tends to result in greater culture shock, and one survey reports that 50% of respondents wanted to push their boundaries and purposely experience culture shock during 2023. 

The disruption of sudden language barriers is a common example of culture shock. Other notable examples include difficulty navigating bureaucracy in a new country, differences in food and dining practices, and differences in transportation. 

The 4 Phases of Culture Shock

It’s important to understand the stages of shock you might experience in a new culture. These stages are normal and usually fade as you become familiar with your new surroundings. There are four distinct phases of culture shock. 

1. Honeymoon Phase

During this phase, you’ll have a positive attitude about this new culture. You’re feeling excited to explore a new place and find the differences from your home culture interesting rather than overwhelming. This stage usually lasts for a few weeks.

Culture Shock Loneliness2. Frustration or Negotiation Phase

Eventually, the rose-colored glasses will come off, and the differences between your new culture and your home culture will start to feel overwhelming. Navigating a new culture feels exhausting, and small challenges may lead to anger. You may also feel intense homesickness or loneliness during this stage. 

It can be tempting to return to your home country during this stage, but it’s important to remember that it will end eventually. The frustration stage often lasts for six months, although it can be longer or shorter depending on the day-to-day challenges you’re facing. 

3. Adjustment Phase

Frustration and loneliness will start to wane as you adapt to your new culture. You’ll be able to communicate more effectively with locals and be more comfortable with new cultural practices. You will still encounter occasional challenges, but you’ll learn how to navigate them more effectively. 

4. Adaptation or Mastery Phase

At this point, you’ll feel at ease in your new culture. You’ll be able to participate comfortably and build a support system in your new home. You’ll also find enjoyment in your new culture, even if you don’t understand it perfectly. Interestingly, many people experience reverse culture shock when returning home once they reach this phase. For example, 70% of exchange students experience some form of reverse culture shock when returning home. 

How Au Pairs Can Cope With Culture Shock

As an au pair working in a new country, it’s normal to experience some culture shock. Here are tips to help you navigate the culture curve and adapt to your new home. 

Talk To Your Host Family

Building a connection with your host family will make the adjustment process easier. Since you’ll be working so closely with their children, they’ll want to get to know you and make sure you’re comfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the area and what to expect — chances are, they’ll be more than happy to help you. 

Socialize and Network

Making new friends will help ease the loneliness that comes with moving to a new country. As an au pair, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to network with other people your age, but you’ll need to be proactive. Look for meetups in your new city that interest you. These could be meetups for other au pairs or groups related to your hobbies. 

As an au pair in the United States, you’ll also need to complete post-secondary education credits. School is an excellent place to connect and make friends with others in your area. 

Learn the Language

Learning the primary language in your new culture will make it much easier for you to communicate. Although it takes time to become fluent, learning some basic words and phrases will make a huge difference when navigating your new city. Taking language classes, whether in-person or online, will help you master new vocabulary and grammar. 

Stay in Touch with Friends and Family Back Home

Maintaining your relationships with loved ones can help you cope with loneliness or frustration. Video calls and text messages from friends and family will boost your mood if you’re feeling down. 

Maintain Cultural Practices

Although it’s important to adapt to your new culture, it’s also important to stay connected to your own culture. Take some time each week to stay connected to home, whether it’s eating your favorite foods, catching up on the news, or participating in religious practices. Don’t be afraid to share your home culture with your host family. 

Stay Open-Minded

Things are going to be different in your new culture, and that’s okay. If you’re feeling frustrated by cultural differences, take a deep breath and try to approach the situation with curiosity rather than upset. Researching the culture in your new home can help you understand the “why” behind different practices. 

Seek Support

The feelings of culture shock can be unpleasant, but you don’t have to deal with them on your own. Working with a therapist or counselor who is familiar with both cultures can help you cope. Additionally, look for support groups for expats from your home country.

staying active to avoid culture shockStay Active and Explore

Staying busy will help distract you from the culture shock as you adjust. Take time to explore your new neighborhood, visit local attractions, and participate in your hobbies. Start with activities you already know you enjoy — for example, if you love art, take time to visit your city’s museums. Exploring will push you out of your comfort zone at times, but it will also help you adjust more quickly. 

Pursue Your Passion With Go Au Pair

Becoming an au pair is an excellent opportunity to live in a new country, further your education, and develop useful childcare skills. Go Au Pair connects aspiring au pairs with American families, providing plenty of support along the way to help you navigate a new culture. Register today to learn more about how to become an au pair and start your adventure. 

By |2024-01-25T10:28:04+00:00January 5th, 2024|Au Pairs|

About the Author:

Michael has been Go Au Pair's Digital Marketing Specialist and Webmaster for over 5 years, with over a decade of marketing and content creation experience.
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