Culture shock

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Culture Shock Overseas, in Thailand, Southeast Asia

The culture barrier is probably the most critical factor to overcome when you work and live abroad as a manager, volunteer, teacher or retired resident.  No matter your technical skills and expertise, IT, teaching English with a TEFL certificate, relief work, wildlife conservation or other, if you cannot overcome the local culture and language barriers you will find it difficult to make a real impact as a manager or teacher or a difference as a volunteer overseas in your work abroad.  You will find it difficult to settle comfortably overseas.

Culture Shock

Almost everyone moving from home to a foreign country experiences at least a mild culture shock.
Why?  When you work, teach or volunteer work abroad it means you want to be efficient, to make a real difference.  This is a very different ambition from being a tourist, traveler or backpacker!

When you settle abroad it means you want to make everyday life about as easy as at home.  This is very different from being a tourist!

It’s normal for newcomers to have mixed feelings of excitement but also discomfort.  When these feelings become distressing it may mean the beginning of culture shock.

It’s critical to understand what culture shock is, how it manifests itself in your feelings, behavior and attitude to your new environment.  You need to know what its different stages are, and most of all understand how to prepare yourself to cope with culture shock.

Feelings new overseas ex pats may experience

It’s honeymoon!
"Everybody is nice, nothing is wrong; I am having a wonderful time".


Some distress, frustration and becoming homesick.

There are so many differences in this different culture that you don’t know how to deal with.  You didn’t think things would be like this. "Why do they do things this way instead of the way we do at home? Nobody told me. I never knew!"

Or did they tell you?

Maybe you read about this new culture in some book, maybe even about culture shock?  Probably you understood but did not know the feeling!  Feelings can only really be felt.  You cannot read a book to learn to feel a feeling!

You cannot learn about, adapt to and live in another culture by reading about it only!  Did you learn to bicycle, swim, and use a computer by reading about it?

All too many good ex pat and volunteer overseas intentions have failed because of these problems: to overcome culture language, climate and other barriers. 

The initially enthusiastic ex pat manager, volunteer or teacher overseas experiences culture shock!  Much good energy has been lost because of not overcoming this shock. Too bad!

Coping with culture shock

Reading about other cultures is not enough: you must learn to understand how these "other" people think and feel, empathize with them.  To be able to make a difference as a manager, volunteer you must understand how these ‘other’ people feel and think.  You must learn by doing, immersing yourself and learn how to immerse yourself.

We can help you
Volunteering, working and teaching abroad in another culture is not only about facing a language barrier! It is about meeting other values, attitudes, religion, and behavior. It’s about eating, hygiene, privacy, security, laws and society, traffic, health. In Thailand religion, Buddha, the Royal Family in Thailand, shoes and dress culture is very important!
How easy will you find it to adapt to different values, attitudes, religion, and behavior? To adapt to other habits in terms of eating, hygiene, privacy, traffic?
We will discuss this with you!

Come with an open mind!
The most important cross cultural skill is to avoid using your own cultural background as the ‘right’ frame of reference when trying to understand or accept another culture, other behavior, what people do, and how they do it. Don’t judge the other culture using your own cultural rules. That is what causes many of the misunderstandings between foreigners and their local colleagues and friends. What may be perceived as impolite behavior in one culture is perhaps not at all impolite in another.

We will help you understand this! And how to avoid it 

Many westerners may find the curiosity of polite and smiling Asian people intrusive. In these cultures it is not considered impolite to ask such questions as: “how old are you,” “do you have a boyfriend,” and “why not”! Even telling a Westerner what he/she looks like is not out of line: “you are quite fat” or “you have a big nose” is quite common! While in a Western context this is considered quite impolite, in Southeast Asia it‘s not regarded as impolite, just friendly and often accompanied by a laugh or smile!

Being polite in Southeast Asia, the Asian way is very important!

It is reflected in the indirect ways of behaving and talking. Being perceived as correct and polite is key in Southeast Asia. Your understanding of what people mean may not at all be what they actually meant! However, people will be quite forgiving if and when you made a mistake, if they feel that you really make an effort to do the “do” and avoid the “don‘t.” The intent is more important than the action!

So how do you show respect?

What do you know about how to handle culture issues regarding Buddha images, shoes, feet, head, the importance of patience, monks, the Thai Royal Family, Handing things to people, Passing people, Dressing, Greetings n, public displays of Affection, eating?

If you don’t, we’ll help you!

We will discuss and explain how to fit into to your new environment and how to cope with culture shock.

“Saving face” is a central part of Southeast Asian culture, so be careful not to embarrass students or teachers by being upset, laughing at them, or raising your voice. Patience is very important.

Work, Planning and Structure Culture

The culture attitude to work regarding planning, deadlines, feedback, responsibility and initiative is very different from Western culture. Seniority, hierarchy, image, and prestige are observed meticulously.  How to cope?

Understand the SE Asian, Thai Heart!

One way to understand Thai culture is to understand ways they use phrases relating to the heart to describe a person or feelings and to understand how this is important in your life and work abroad.

Like how important is to have
• Jai dee – Good hearted/ kindhearted (good): caring, sympathetic, and thoughtful.
• Jai yen – Cool hearted (good): patient, calm, peaceful, relaxed, and composed.
And how to avoid

• Jai Ron – Hot hearted (not good): easily angered, impatient, irritable, and intolerant.
Some other key words that provide insight into Thai society.

Learn by Doing - Activity Based Training. The modern open mind way!

Learn and understand in real situations.  We don’t believe you can just read up on another culture to prepare yourself for work in another culture.

Culture Shock Overseas, in Thailand, SE Asia