04/07/2013 12:02 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 06:12 BST

How To Avoid Culture Shock When Volunteering

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Culture shock is defined as 'the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes', and can be particularly affecting if travel itself is an unfamiliar experience. Yet travel is a means of experiencing new things and meeting new people; it's a way to find yourself as well as a discovery of the unknown.

They say life is a book though, and those who do not travel read only a page. Whilst new cultures may initially shock, the flipside of this feeling is excitement and there are some simple ways to overcome and nervousness you might feel at first on your volunteer project.


Embrace other volunteers

The first thing is to remember that you're not alone! You are not the first or the only to have ever felt a little overwhelmed when confronted with the unfamiliar. Try to get passed this feeling by talking to the other volunteers about it, and feel comforted by the fact you're all going through it together. Soon enough this sense of shared experience will turn into a joint quest for adventure and relish of your volunteering activities.

Interact with the locals

One of the main reasons to volunteer is to experience another culture in depth, so don't hesitate to talk with the local people as much as possible. People are more often than not incredibly helpful and friendly, eager to learn as much about you as you them. Learn a little of the local language out of respect and impress people with your skills as a way to fully immerse yourself within a community, and in turn, learn more about its culture. Soon enough it won't seem so unfamiliar.

Throw yourself into volunteering

If you find yourself feeling a little uncertain in your new surroundings, get fully involved in your volunteering project. Not only will this act as a distraction, taking your mind off how you're feeling, but it will also help you get the most from your project. Be prepared to help where help is needed to ensure you have the best and most rewarding volunteering experience. Being flexible and taking a relaxed approach to changes will also make you more able to enjoy new things.

Learn something new

Volunteering is all about trying out new things and is very much recognised to be a learning experience. Take advantage of your situation and recognise this is potentially a once in a life time chance to be in the situation you're in. Learn something new to take home with you: whether that means trying new food or even learning the recipe, learning some phrases in a new language, learning how to teach English, identify certain wildlife, how to dive... you'll be amazed at what you can learn.

Go exploring

You've most likely taken part in a volunteering project to have an adventure, so don't limit yourself to the project only. Make the most of your free time or time before or after the project to explore the surrounding areas. Visit local restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, and landmarks but most of all remember to enjoy the journey as you venture out.

Author Maria Sowter is the Online Content Editor at Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO that runs over 300 conservation, community, and adventure projects in 57 countries across the globe. She can be found blogging on Frontier's Gap Year Blog or posting on the Frontier Official Facebook page.