How to deal with cultural shock while volunteering abroad
While you are working abroad as an international volunteer or intern you will have to accept that the way things are done in your host community will be quite different from the way they are done in your home country. This includes day to day things such as the way people talk and address each other to the kind of clothes they wear and the kind of food they eat. These differences will give rise to culture shock.
Sometimes the culture shock is immediate but at times it may arise after some time has been spent getting to know the local norms and traditions. Whatever the timing of the culture shock, the truth is that it does exist and can make your stay abroad a disturbing one if you do not know how to deal with it effectively.
To start, one thing that you can do is to change some of your perceptions and think of culture shock as the first step towards learning about other cultures. Remember that in every culture some things may be right and valid while in your own culture they might not. Remember that each culture is shaped in response to peculiar environmental challenges that differ from society to society and from country to country. So if people dress or eat differently it is because it helps them to adjust best to their local environment. If you have this understanding you will be less likely to feel offended and disturbed by local customs.
Also, remember that it is important to see people living life in different ways if you are to expand your horizons. Sometimes things will seem more challenging than usual. At times you may feel that certain local customs go against your religious or personal beliefs. For instance, you may feel uncomfortable at the degree of intermingling between the opposite sexes or the way women dress and are treated in society. Even though you may feel differently about these issues, it is important that you try to respect and appreciate the cultural diversity. Because you are there to help the local communities, you have to try your best to respect their way of life if you really want to contribute in any significant way.
Moreover, instead of constantly comparing the local culture with your own take some time to learn about the local culture and understand why it works there. Talk to the local people about their culture and they will help you to understand their traditions and the way of life of their ancestors. With that kind of perspective you will be able to appreciate the local culture for what it is and not simply as something that is right or wrong compared with the culture you have been raised in.
In addition, it can also help to talk to them about the culture in your home country. When you see that they can also be interested in learning different ways of living and seeing things, it will relieve you of the anxiety that the dominant alien culture might have reared within you. This will expand your comfort zone and you will find it much easier to come to terms with the local culture.
Lastly, when things get too stressful, use humor to calm yourself. Try to laugh away differences that you cannot appreciate or explain. This technique works well when you have to spend a long time in a foreign culture. At any rate avoid becoming indifferent and alienating yourself from the culture because it will hinder your ability to help the local people and learn about them.