Culture shock is a normal reaction to being in a new, unknown environment. Here are some tips on how to handle Moscow culture shock, adapted from the School of Russian and Asian Studies guide.
Although Moscow is an international city, it is still a very foreign environment for most expats. Your stress levels will be high as you try your best to adjust to your new surroundings. You may not know the city; you may not know the language, and all those little everyday things might seem like the toughest challenges ever. Website www.sras.org looked into this complex issue.
Culture shock usually happens in three phases. First, there is the honeymoon phase: everything seems new and exciting. You will be discovering the city in euphoric delight and the new culture seems wonderful. Next comes the so-called negotiation phase: you begin to notice differences and some aspects of the host culture will annoy you. Homesickness is not uncommon in this phase and at times you might feel like giving up. You may even begin hating the culture. The last phase is – adjustment. You balance the pros and cons of the new culture and accept the differences. You also feel more like yourself in your new environment and begin to feel at home.
Reasons why you might suffer from culture shock in Moscow
If you do not speak Russian, you might feel incapable of communicating even when doing the simplest things. Even for an advanced speaker, it will take time to adjust to the new language environment. It will be tiring and stressful at first to communicate in a foreign language as you will not be able to say everything you would want to say. Also, the way people communicate might be very different compared to what you are used to. You may feel isolated and disconnected from the world. At first, it will be quite difficult to get in contact with people, let alone make friends. The language or cultural barriers might make it even more difficult. Do not despair, but rather try to find and meet other internationals in Moscow.
In the beginning, it is very hard to know how normal habits and manners work. You don’t know how to react in certain situations and you don’t know how other people will react either. This can be very frustrating. Still, you should not be afraid to go out in the open and meet other people.
Russian culture is very straightforward and often people appear rude and cold to foreigners. In Russia, a smile is a rare sign of friendship and a reaction to something truly funny or pleasant. Smiling can be a sign of insecurity or, in extreme cases, of mental imbalance. People in service might treat you, in your perception, in a rude manner. In general, Russians are very blunt and can ask personal questions, expecting an honest and simple answer. People might feel the need to tell you what to do; this is the case especially with elderly people. They might even insist on it, in which case it is best to just accept their advice.
Russian culture is also more aggressive than what most people are used to. Especially in large cities such as Moscow, it is not uncommon for people to push strangers out of the way. Personal space is also more limited as Russians tend to stand close to people, even strangers.
The standard of living in Moscow might be lower than you would have expected. Many houses and dorms are old, dating back to the Soviet era. Toilet facilities might be below your normal standards and you will probably have to physically light the stove and the oven. It is not always possible to find a functioning internet connection and calling home might be an endeavour. Also, be prepared for how small rooms and apartments are.
How to cope with culture shock?
- Think of your new environment as a challenge. Many people come back stronger and happier, with their eyes open due to their experiences.
- Do not isolate yourself – there are many other expats going through the same experiences. Try to contact people and learn the language so you can communicate with the locals as well.
- Keep a blog or journal – writing helps to overcome the frustration you might be experiencing.
- Keep busy – you won’t miss home as much when you have things to do.
The School of Russian and Asian studies / Expatica