Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 17, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

Overcoming culture shock

The first few weeks in a foreign country can be a little overwhelming, especially for first-time travelers.

China, in particular, is a real eye-opener. With its stark cultural differences, difficult-to-master language and sheer amount of people, many travelers and teachers find China takes a little getting used to.

Luckily, there’s a way to help overcome culture shock and adjust quickly to your new surroundings.

The secret? Meditation.

An age-old practice

Meditation has been around for thousands of years and its proponents swear by it. But what exactly is it?

In a Western context, meditation is the practice of ‘stilling the mind’. This means the mind can find a place of inner stillness, heightened awareness and focus. This allows the body to achieve a deep state of relaxation.

People meditate for many reasons. It could be to relax, become more focused, reduce stress, improve health or even increase productivity.

According to Tomas Jajesnica, chief meditation officer at Mr Meditate, meditation is a great way to relax and overcome culture shock.

“It enables you to get some clarity, become centred and remove the anxiety associated with being in an unfamiliar environment,” he says.

Simple techniques can help with culture shock

The best way to manage culture shock is to be mentally prepared for it. This starts with preparing yourself for the long-haul flight to China.

Before you’re up in the air, focus on your breath. It’s a simple yet effective way to slow down the mind and release stress. You can also use positive thinking to focus your thoughts.

As soon as you arrive in your new home, you should try to create a consistent routine. Nick Gati, communications officer at Mr Meditate, believes that this technique helps you adapt quickly to your new surroundings.

“When I traveled abroad, I created a consistent routine in order to get centered and focused on the task at hand,” Gati says.

“The best way to respond to a new environment is to take some time out every day to clear the mind. This enables any negative or overwhelming thoughts to be observed and then removed,” he says.

Once you’ve settled in, try to keep meditating on a regular basis. Your daily ride in the elevator could even turn into an opportunity for a quick, one-minute meditation!

Why China is unique

China’s massive population means finding a quiet public place to meditate can be challenging.

Parks and open spaces are usually bustling with people, and the only solace you might find for an extended meditation practice is in the comforts of your own apartment.

There's a way you can overcome any culture shock you might have in China. The secret? Meditation. Pictured: busy temple grounds in Shanghai.

It can be hard finding a quiet place to meditate in China (pictured: Yuyuan temple grounds in Shanghai).

Although finding a quiet place to meditate is ideal, it is by no means imperative. In fact, meditation can be practised in busy and loud environments.

“Meditation is the best ‘mobile device’ you have because it can be practised anytime, anywhere,” Jajesnica says.

Another challenge Westerners face in China is the culture shock of being stared at, simply for having a ‘foreign face’. This may cause some people to feel anxious or like they’re being watched.

To deal with this, mindfulness can be beneficial as it helps bring about perspective.

“Mindfulness enables travellers to see the situation for what it is and not react anxiously or uncomfortably. By being mindful, you can embrace the changes and differences while overseas,” he says.

Control in the classroom

In China’s public school system, class sizes of up to 50 students are not uncommon. Understandably, it can be hard to remain calm while there are so many distractions and things to throw you off balance.

Regular meditation practice can make you feel more in control and better equipped to focus on the lesson. Meditating can also help you regain balance if things in the classroom go a little awry (think crying student or a lesson plan that falls flat).

Teaching abroad is a challenging experience and it’s natural to experience some culture shock. Fortunately, meditation can help you overcome any obstacles and better deal with new situations as they arise.

For more tips on how to meditate, visit the Mr Meditate website.

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