The term, culture shock, is used to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or
inappropriate. For students, the feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place as they go through the process of cultural adjustment.
For some students a bout with cultural adjustment is brief and hardly noticeable. For other students the process of cultural adjustment can cause intense discomfort, often accompanied by hyperirritability, bitterness, resentment, homesickness, and depression. In some cases distinct physical symptoms of psychosomatic illness occur.
It is important to remember that cultural shock does not result from a specific event. Instead it comes from the experiences of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, or valuing things which are different from yours and which threatens your basic unconscious beliefs, values, and customs. Further, culture shock does not strike suddenly or have a single principle cause. It builds up slowly, from a series of small events, which are difficult to identify.
One way that can help you in dealing with culture shock is to be aware of the progressive stages of cultural adjustment. These stages include:
- Stage One: Cultural euphoria. During this stage your first reaction to a new place is often to enjoy and be pleased by all of the new things encountered. This time is called the "honeymoon" stage, as everything encountered is new and exciting.
- Stage Two: Cultural confrontation. During this stage a person begins to encounter some confusion about their new home. Crisis start to develop, feelings of discontent, impatience, anger, sadness, and feelings of incompetence can begin to emerge. Students can be irritable and hostile as there are often feelings of dissatisfaction.
- Stage Three: Cultural adjustment. During this stage, the student begins to gain some understanding of his/her new culture. The student does not feel as lost and starts to have a feeling of direction as he or she becomes more familiar with the environment and wants to below.
- Stage Four: Adaptation or biculturalism. During this stage the student realizes that the new culture has good and bad things to offer. This realization is accompanied by a more solid feeling of belonging.
Adapted by Kohls, L. R. (2001). Survival Kit for Overseas Living
Responding to Culture Shock, adjusting to a new culture
- Realize everyone experiences it.
- Be ready to learn from it: there are different ways of doing things, not worse, not better.
- Reread this info when you’re feeling down.
- Pursue info gathering about the country where you will be studying. Do research, ask people, read books. Choose one or two areas and investigate them deeply: ie soccer, food
- Begin looking for logical reasons behind everything that seems strange, confusing, difficult, threatening.
- Make a list of all the positive things you can identify about your present situation.
- Avoid other students who are in a permanent state of complaining and culture shock.
- Work at maintaining a healthy sense of humor.
- Find someone who has gone through culture shock and has a positive attitude now. Get perspective.
- Make friends with host nationals and try to develop one or two deeper relationships while studying abroad.
- Keep busy. Keep active. Keep your mind occupied. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.
- Have faith that you will work through culture shock to brighter days ahead.
- Be concerned about others in the program.