Culture Shock: The Curse of Every Intern

Culture Shock: The Curse of Every Intern

Learning to balance a new job in a completely new country can feel almost unbearable. As soon as you enter a new country you’re faced with an abundance of different foods, languages, and customs at almost every turn. It can become overwhelming very quickly. The combination of these elements creates the uneasy feeling known as culture shock. And it happens to almost every J-1 participant arriving to the United States.

Culture shock is a completely natural reaction for anyone visiting a foreign country. And since living and training in the United States is very different from the rest of the world, it’s understandable that you would have feelings of unrest when you begin your internship. In fact, the first step toward overcoming culture shock is to acknowledge your concerns.

Acknowledging Concerns

Every intern or foreign traveler into the United States experiences some form of culture shock. Whether it’s the way Americans talk, the way they eat, or even how they dress, the eclectic culture can make for a long adjustment period.  

You may experience the tinges of culture shock creep into your psyche as soon as you step off the plane. You may become nauseous or feel your palms begin to sweat.  Some interns experience tingling along their arms or back of the neck. Others have reported feeling anxious or nervous in an otherwise comfortable setting.

Symptoms of culture shock can range from mild to severe and include feeling sad and lonely or spontaneous aches and pains. Other indications include insomnia or excessive sleeping or even a more serious symptom like depression or compulsive mood swings.

If you can attribute these symptoms to culture shock, you have a better opportunity to combat them in a positive way.

Preventing Culture Shock Through Language

Even the most talented interns will experience culture shock if they don’t take time to prepare for their J-1 internship. The most common reason many interns experience major side effects of culture shock is attributed to the language barrier.

While America is a mecca of diversity, English is spoken in most hotels and country clubs. The inability to speak, understand, and write in the common tongue can be frustrating to both you and the people around you. Speaking and listening in English are key roles in the job setting and tempers can get heated when communication is cut off.

Stress and Anxiety

Miscommunication due to your inability to speak the language results in stress and anxiety. Too much stress can leave you feeling like you’re wasting your time with your internship. You can start to miss home more or find yourself becoming sad or angry.

Anxiety is prevalent in the food and hospitality industry. The fast-paced work environment, demanding job requirements, and the variety of clients to please can lead to nervousness and anxiety during a shift. The inability to speak the language only heightens anxiety and can lead to bigger issues.

Breathing to slow anxiety

When you feel the waves of anxiety or irritation wash over you at work or in a social setting, take a step back and breath. Fill your lungs with air and slowly release the rising tension from your body. The fresh air and slow breathing will help reset your nerves and can enable your body to relax. Repeat the deep breathing exercise until you feel the tension leave your body.

Other Ways to Prevent Culture Shock

While having a great command of the English language prior to arriving, there are other ways to help prevent culture shock.

Study the Culture

Spend as much time as possible learning American culture prior to your arrival. This can include values, political views, attitudes, lifestyles, and religious beliefs. Keep in mind, every region in America has a different set of customs and values. Narrow your research to the specific city you’ll be interning in before branching out to neighboring towns.

Study the Food

While a typical American family will have a variety of cuisines in their daily lives, there are certain foods that are celebrated more (or less) in every city. San Antonio is known for having fresh and exciting foods including Tex Mex while New Orleans is famous for Cajun creations. When you know what to expect before you arrive, it can make the transition easier.

Study the Landscape

America has stunning beaches, great lakes, picturesque mountains, as well as vast plains and dry deserts. If you come from a place with dry weather, living in a city on the coast such as Miami, the humid air may be quite a shock to your system. Likewise, if you’re accustomed to sunshine and warm weather throughout the year, the first blanket of snow covering the streets of Boston in winter will certainly send shudders across your body.

Knowledge is Power

If you spend a good deal of time preparing for your stay in America, your internship can be the best experience of your life. You will learn more about your field as well as forge lifelong friendships with other culinarians. And you’ll do it in the most beautiful land in the world. America is such an amazing place to visit and learn. The eclectic mix of peoples, cultures, cuisines, and values is what propels new ideas.  

Get the most out of your internship by coming to America well prepared. That means learning as much English as possible, understand what to expect in your new city, and have a strong grasp of the culture in the city. With the knowledge of language and culture clutched firmly in your mind, the fun and adventure will multiply.

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