Culture Shock in Eastern Europe
Once you decide to go you will be joining thousands of North American travelers who each year venture into Eastern Europe.
Although many travel for several weeks, few actually have the courage or desire to live in a foreign country for an extended period of time. It takes bravery and confidence, not to mention time, to immerse yourself in a foreign culture and adopt a whole new way of life.
Living and working in Eastern Europe will be the experience of a lifetime, full of new challenges and learning experiences. You will be exposed to new lifestyles, values, customs, politics, and languages. If you can come away with a better understanding of any of these things, your trip can be considered at least a partial success. An American expat accustomed to big city life in Eastern Europe remarked:
"There are thousands of opportunities here. Some of them end up being false. You just have to figure out what is actually possible, usually through trial and error. And if you take the time to get to know people - get over all the hang-ups about foreigners - things get done here. There is a certain beauty to it all."
Immersion in a foreign culture can be overwhelming. Discomfort can be minimized if you know what to expect before you leave. Culture shock is no small consideration. A bad reaction to staying in a completely new place without the aid of cultural instincts and a familiar social structure can make you want to return home very quickly, without reaping any of the benefits associated with living abroad. Symptoms of culture shock may range from mild uneasiness, homesickness, and outright unhappiness to panic, irritability, and hostility.
"Your heart can sink here - the pollution, the rudeness of the service, the dismal winters. ... All of a sudden you realize that you don't have someone around you can call and chat with. Yeah, you make friends, but it takes a while to establish the kinds of close relationships you have back home."
To minimize the effects of culture shock, learn as much as possible about the place you are going to before you get there. If you can, try to hook up with someone who is either a native or has spent a lot of time in your country of choice. The closer you can get to immersing yourself in the culture before you go, the better off you'll be once you get there.
"Get to know someone who is from the country you will be visiting. Talk to them and ask lots of questions. Maybe even get a few short language lessons. If you can connect the experience you have once you get there with something you have already heard, your depth of understanding will be much greater and more rewarding in the long run."