Megan is an Australian journalist, and the founder and senior editor of Mapping Megan – an award-winning adventure travel blog bringing readers the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe.
Megan and her husband Mike believe travel has the potential to inspire change in people, and in turn inspire change in the world. They embraced travel as a lifestyle in 2007, and are dedicated to documenting their journey and observations to inspire others to pursue their own global adventures. You can follow their journey on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.
How did you get into traveling?
I first started traveling in 2007 when I embarked on a 12 month Gap Year to the UK. I worked as a boarding school assistant in West Sussex, England, and through this job had 17 weeks break to discover and explore the whole of Europe. This really sparked my passion for travel, and I couldn’t wait to explore and experience the rest of the world.
I fell in love with the adventure, excitement and the escape from monotony. I realized seeing the world in living color far surpassed settling for watching it on a television screen or reading about it in a book. This trip made me realize that I wanted to actually feel, taste and experience the world instead of settling for the version I was reading in books.
What was your most intense culture shock experience? What did you learn from it?
Toilets in Japan! I was 15 at the time, and traveled on a two week cultural immersion program with my year 9 language class. What we experienced was completely different to what we were used to in our environment back home, and while it was fun and exciting, it was also stressful at times – and I think the realization that we were going to have to squat to use the bathroom was a little too intense for any of our liking!
Any tips for someone going through culture shock for the first time? What helped you?
Give yourself time to settle in, and keep a positive attitude. Settling into a new destination which is unfamiliar and completely different to what you’re used to doesn’t happen overnight, and it all depends on you and the kind of person you are. Don’t expect to settle in straight away, and give yourself time to adapt to your new environment so you don’t go into shock from being completely overwhelmed. Explore a new city slowly and at your own pace.
Keeping a positive attitude is one of the main ways to prevent culture shock – accepting that you’re going to be faced with new experiences and environments which are likely to land you outside of your comfort zone, and trusting that you’re going to make it through the situation no matter what happens. A positive attitude and an open mind go a long way to preventing anxiety and frustration while on the road in unfamiliar environments, and these are two of the biggest contributors to culture shock.
What has reverse culture shock been like for you?
Reverse culture shock is almost as stressful as culture shock – it’s the realization that you no longer fit in at home to the circles you were once a part of, and the realization that “home” has changed and is no longer as comforting as you remember it.
Reverse culture shock is bound to happen to every traveler who takes off for a prolonged period of time – we’re changing while we’re overseas, and travel experiences will usually shape and mould you into someone who is completely new. But while we’re abroad, the world doesn’t stop revolving back home – as we are changing so is everyone we left behind, and it’s often hard to come back and realize that you have different interests to those who were once in your closest circles of friends.
Reverse culture shock has definitely been a factor when returning home from my travels, though I have always personally been able to accept new environments and deal with culture shock fairly well to begin with, so it’s never been particularly stressful for me. I accept that life is constantly changing, and believe that friendships and relationships come into our life at a certain period of time when they are needed most. I accept that life often requires us to move on in order to grow and achieve new experiences, and I think this is the right attitude to have in order to avoid the stress which can come from reverse culture shock.
What is your favorite travel learning experience? Anything that triggered a profound shift?
Volunteering in Kenya was by far my favorite travel learning experience, and the one which triggered the most profound shift.
Having traveled as part of the World Scout Moot, a camp for Rover Scouts aged 15-26 from all around the world, we were placed into groups of 50 for the two week camp, each group with a mix of different nationalities. During the day we worked side by side to complete our various volunteer projects, whether this was building a bus shelter, visiting locals schools, or planting trees, and each evening we were all equally in charge of cooking group rations and eating together. This was more of a challenge than you would ever believe, and on that first night no-one ate.
With clashing cultures, language barriers, and immense hunger, tempers boiled high as 50 individuals attempted to have their say about how the group would be cooking/eating. Opinions on standards of hygiene and sanitation varied, and ingredients those from Western nations considered waste, (like bone), were thrown back into pots as key cooking ingredients by those from third world nations.
There was no open communication, only 50 individuals trying to charge, and it was an absolute mess. Each of us quickly realized that in order to eat, communication was vital, and while it took a few days, it wasn’t long before everyone was working together, strategically divvying up cooking ingredients, and then enjoying a dinner each evening with samples of cuisine from multiple nations.
I think this experience really taught me that people are all the same, no matter which country you come from or which language you speak – people are all the same, and this realization fosters an appreciation for world cultures which I think is sorely lacking in today’s modern society.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Don’t let fear of culture shock, or fear of anything else get in the way of travel. Make it happen and overcome whatever fear you may have, because once you’ve experienced the world, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.