Published 9th December 2015

So, you’ve found a job, got the visa, booked the ticket, packed your bags and you’re ready for the TEFL adventure of a lifetime. Congratulations for getting this far! You’re probably super excited, but also maybe a little bit anxious. Don’t worry, this is normal. Getting involved in TEFL means that you should expect the unexpected, so it’s only natural to be a bit nervous about embarking on a journey which is like nothing you’ve ever done before.

To help you deal with this, it’s a good idea to take a moment and think about what lies ahead of you. You’re probably going to a new country where you won’t know many (if any) people, won’t speak the language and won’t be familiar with the lifestyle and customs around you. You may even find yourself overwhelmed when you arrive, rather than excited. Again, this is normal. In fact, you may find yourself experiencing culture shock.

What is culture shock?

Culture shock is the feeling a person may experience when they find themselves in a completely new, different environment to the one they are used to. Culture shock is a real phenomenon and many people who travel because of TEFL may find themselves experiencing culture shock to some degree. Culture shock consists of a number of different stages.

What are the different culture shock stages?

The first stage – commonly known as the honeymoon stage – is when you first arrive in a country and everything is new and exciting. While your new lifestyle is perceived as different, any differences are seen in a positive light and are appreciated.

The next stage is when the honeymoon stage ends, which it always does. At this time the differences are no longer seen as fun and exciting, but are more frustrating and irritating. Language barriers, a different lifestyle, social customs and a lack of social connections all contribute to making you feel very lonely and homesick.

However, when this stage passes you will find you are more accustomed to your new circumstances – possibly even know how to speak the language – and you find your situation more normal. You will be open to finding new friends and experiencing even more new adventures, so you will enjoy your time much more.

The final stage is a stage not everyone reaches. Sometimes you will find yourself in a place that you just can’t get used to. Other times, you’ll find that after a while you feel like you’ve been living there your whole life and you don’t ever want to leave!

How can I cope with culture shock?

The first thing is to recognise that culture shock is a valid process. If you’re feeling down or lonely or frustrated, don’t let that make you book the next available flight home. Give yourself some time to get comfortable. Having a positive attitude is a must. Be good to yourself and spoil yourself by having new experiences which wouldn’t be possible anywhere else. Try learn at least a few words in the language, as this will help you feel more at home, and it will help you make new friends.

If all else fails, Skype home and ask your mum to send you a parcel with all your favourite goodies from home!