Culture shock

Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life. One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of four distinct phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation.

Common problems include: information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), boredom (job dependency), response ability (cultural skill set). There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, as individuals in any society are personally affected by cultural contrasts differently.

Four phases

During this period, the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new food, the pace of life, and the locals’ habits. During the first few weeks, most people are fascinated by the new culture. They associate with nationals who speak their language, and who are polite to the foreigners. Like most honeymoon periods, this stage eventually ends.

After some time (usually around three months, depending on the individual), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. Excitement may eventually give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger as one continues to experience unfavorable events that may be perceived as strange and offensive to one’s cultural attitude. Language barriers, stark differences in public hygiene, traffic safety, food accessibility and quality may heighten the sense of disconnection from the surroundings.

While being transferred into a different environment puts special pressure on communication skills, there are practical difficulties to overcome, such as circadian rhythm disruption that often leads to insomnia and daylight drowsiness; adaptation of gut flora to different bacteria levels and concentrations in food and water; difficulty in seeking treatment for illness, as medicines may have different names from the native country’s and the same active ingredients might be hard to recognize.

Still, the most important change in the period is communication: People adjusting to a new culture often feel lonely and homesick because they are not yet used to the new environment and meet people with whom they are not familiar every day. The language barrier may become a major obstacle in creating new relationships: special attention must be paid to one’s and others’ culture-specific body language signs, linguistic faux pas, conversation tone, linguistic nuances and customs, and false friends.

In the case of students studying abroad, some develop additional symptoms of loneliness that ultimately affect their lifestyles as a whole. Due to the strain of living in a different country without parental support, international students often feel anxious and feel more pressure while adjusting to new cultures—even more so when the cultural distances are wide, as patterns of logic and speech are different and a special emphasis is put on rhetoric.

This model does not describe punctual shock but the longer-lasting (sometimes over several months). The time on the horizontal axis, the well-being is recorded on the vertical axis. “U” describes the graphical form that the curve can take.

Honeymoon Phase
During this time, the differences between the old and the new culture are seen in a romantic light – wonderful and new. For example, if someone moves to another country, the person enjoys the foreign food, the different architecture and how people live. In the first few weeks, most people are fascinated by the new culture. A phase of observation full of new discoveries.

One notices what is not so ideal in the “new” culture and you often get into bad hands. Typical is the thought “it will be better at home”. Language barriers and lack of knowledge often play a role.

One develops understanding of the practices that deviate from the home culture and tries to understand them.

The person has integrated himself into the new culture, he understands the culture and in some cases even takes on behavioral characteristics of the foreign culture.

W model
With the so-called W-model, the U-model is extended by another phase, namely the phase of returning to one’s own culture. Since this may be similar to the first section, here are two U-models in a row, or just (due to the graphic similarity), the W-model. In order to isolate the shock that may arise when returning home, from the shock in the foreign culture, the former is called self-culture shock.

Self Culture Shock
The phenomenon of self-culture-shocks (, also the reverse culture shock, reverse culture shock, re-entry shock ) describes the phenomenon of a culture shock when returning from a foreign culture in their own home. This is generally more severe than when entering into a foreign culture, since the need for reintegration into one’s own culture usually represents a highly unexpected psychological experience.

Psychodynamic considerations
Akthar (1995, 2005) described identity development in migration as a third individuation.

ICD-10 Classification
Migrants have increased vulnerability to mental illness during the critical adaptation phase. There are several ways to code the culture shock according to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10):

In F43.2 the “culture shock” is explicitly mentioned as a possible trigger for an adjustment disorder.
Under Z60 difficulties in cultural habituation are classified.
According to Assion 2005, depression, psychosomatic complaints and post-traumatic stress reactions were more frequently observed in connection with migration. In schizophrenia, mental retardation and dementia, migration influences the development, course, and treatment options.

Again, after some time (usually 6 to 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more “normal”. One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture’s ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced.

In the mastery stage individuals are able to participate fully and comfortably in the host culture. Mastery does not mean total conversion; people often keep many traits from their earlier culture, such as accents and languages. It is often referred to as the bicultural stage.

Reverse culture shock
Reverse culture shock (also known as “re-entry shock” or “own culture shock”) may take place—returning to one’s home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above. These are results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture. The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock. This phenomenon, the reactions that members of the re-entered culture exhibit toward the re-entrant, and the inevitability of the two are encapsulated in the following saying, which is also the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again.

Reverse culture shock is generally made up of two parts: idealization and expectations. When an extended period of time is spent abroad we focus on the good from our past, cut out the bad, and create an idealized version of the past. Secondly, once removed from our familiar setting and placed in a foreign one we incorrectly assume that our previous world has not changed. We expect things to remain exactly the same as when we left them. The realization that life back home is now different, that the world has continued without us, and the process of readjusting to these new conditions as well as actualizing our new perceptions about the world with our old way of living causes discomfort and psychological anguish.

There are three basic outcomes of the Adjustment Phase:

Some people find it impossible to accept the foreign culture and to integrate. They isolate themselves from the host country’s environment, which they come to perceive as hostile, withdraw into an (often mental) “ghetto” and see return to their own culture as the only way out. These “Rejectors” also have the greatest problems re-integrating back home after return.
Some people integrate fully and take on all parts of the host culture while losing their original identity. This is called cultural assimilation. They normally remain in the host country forever. This group is sometimes known as “Adopters” and describes approximately 10% of expatriates.
Some people manage to adapt to the aspects of the host culture they see as positive, while keeping some of their own and creating their unique blend. They have no major problems returning home or relocating elsewhere. This group can be thought to be cosmopolitan. Approximately 30% of expats belong to this group.
Culture shock has many different effects, time spans, and degrees of severity. Many people are handicapped by its presence and do not recognize what is bothering them.

Inverted cultural shock
Inverted culture shock can occur when the individual returns to his or her native culture after becoming accustomed to another culture. It usually has two phases: idealization and expectations. The idealization is that the individual focuses on the good things of the past (getting rid of the bad things), creating an idealized version of it. Expectations are that the individual assumes that the environment from which he left has not changed, hoping that things will remain the same way they were when he left.

The realization that things have changed, and the process of adjustment and updating to new conditions can cause discomfort and anguish.

Transition shock
Culture shock is a subcategory of a more universal construct called transition shock. Transition shock is a state of loss and disorientation predicated by a change in one’s familiar environment that requires adjustment. There are many symptoms of transition shock, including:

Compulsive eating/drinking/weight gain
Desire for home and old friends
Excessive concern over cleanliness
Excessive sleep
Feelings of helplessness and withdrawal
Getting “stuck” on one thing
Glazed stare
Hostility towards host nationals
Mood swings
Physiological stress reactions
Stereotyping host nationals
Suicidal or fatalistic thoughts

Ways to overcome
According to the American anthropologist F. Bock, there are four ways to resolve the conflict arising from cultural shock.

The first method can be called ghettoization (from the word ghetto ). It is carried out in situations where a person falls into another society, but tries or is compelled (because of ignorance of the language, religion or for any other reason) to avoid any contact with another’s culture. In this case, he tries to create his own cultural environment – the environment of his compatriots, fencing off this environment from the influence of the foreign culture environment.

The second way to resolve the conflict of cultures is assimilation. In the case of assimilation, the individual, on the contrary, completely abandons his culture and seeks to fully assimilate the cultural norms of another culture necessary for life. Of course, this is not always possible. The reason for failure can be either a person’s lack of ability to adapt to a new culture, or resistance to the cultural environment of which he intends to become a member.

The third way to resolve a cultural conflict is an intermediate, consisting of cultural exchange and interaction. In order for the exchange to be beneficial and enriching both sides, we need openness on both sides, which, unfortunately, is extremely rare in life, especially if the parties are initially unequal. In fact, the results of this interaction are not always obvious at the very beginning. They become visible and powerful only after a considerable time.

The fourth way is partial assimilation, when the individual sacrifices his culture in favor of the inocultural environment in part, that is, in one of the spheres of life: for example, at work he is guided by the norms and requirements of another culture, and in the family, in religious life, by the norms of his traditional culture .

The consequences of cultural shock can not only be negative. According to modern researchers, cultural shock is quite normal reaction, and even an integral part of the process of adaptation to new conditions. In addition, in this case a person not only receives information about the new culture and its norms and values, but also raises its level of cultural development, although it experiences stress. Therefore, since the early 90’s. XX century. many scientists prefer to use the phrase “stress of acculturation”.

Culture shock in Travel
Sometimes, after a few days or weeks in a new place, a traveller starts to feel stressed about the unfamiliar language and customs, irritated at the people and culture, homesick, and altogether in a bad mood. This is culture shock.

It’s especially likely to happen if you’re travelling for a longer period of time or to a place that’s very different from where you’re used to. An American travelling to Canada may not get culture shock, but an American travelling to India likely will. But don’t assume you’re immune just because you’re going to a country that you don’t think is very different—sometimes people experience culture shock even when moving within their own country, which is especially jarring because it’s so unexpected.

Long-term travellers may even experience a form of culture shock on returning home after adapting to another culture; various things that always seemed normal before will now seem strange. One study of alcoholism among American university faculty found that anthropology was the discipline with the most drunks, and attributed it to this sort of reverse culture shock.

When first arriving in a new culture, you’ll probably have a “honeymoon” period, when the new culture seems fascinating and exciting. It may last for just a few days or for several weeks.

When the honeymoon phase ends, many travellers gradually start to feel some anxiety and stress about the cultural differences. The traveller continues to encounter misunderstandings and frustrating experiences because of their unfamiliarity with the customs, and the stress may be exacerbated by a language barrier and different standards for hygiene and infrastructure. Even if the traveller speaks the local language, aspects of communication like body language and politeness can cause misunderstandings and make it harder to make friends, which can lead to loneliness.

Over time, you’ll get used to the new culture, and culture shock should subside. This happens gradually, as you learn how things work and the culture starts to feel normal, and as you develop better strategies for dealing with unfamiliar or tricky situations. Naturally, this adaptation comes with gaining a deeper understanding of the place you’re visiting—which for many people is a reason for travelling in the first place! In the meantime, you can also expect to question your beliefs and preconceptions and learn a lot about the culture you came from; in some ways, you can’t truly understand your own culture until you’ve experienced a different one.

If you’ve been abroad for a long time (months or years), expect a certain amount of “reverse culture shock” when you finally come back home. Not only will you have half-forgotten how some things work in your native country, things will also have changed since you left, which can be disorienting and jarring. In some cases you may even find yourself wondering “Why can’t we do it like in country X?” – just the same like you used to wonder “why don’t they do it like in my country?” when you first went abroad. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust when coming home after a long period, just like when you go to a new place.

The following can be symptoms of culture shock:

Being overwhelmed by small problems
Excessive sleep, eating, or drinking
Feeling overly shy, insecure, lonely, sad, or vulnerable
Headaches and other pains
Hostility or excessive criticism of the host culture and idealizing your home culture
Irritability, especially towards people from the host country
Obsession with health and cleanliness
Withdrawal and feelings of isolation or helplessness

Be ready to recognize culture shock if it happens, and remind yourself that it is an emotional reaction you may not be able to control, and that it’s normal and will probably be temporary.

Try to learn about how the culture works. Remember that it does make sense from the locals’ perspective, and if you can understand the underlying logic, it’ll make more sense to you too. Try to find someone, such as a local or experienced expat you can trust, who you can go to with questions about things you don’t understand.

Be patient with yourself. When travelling, it’s easy to feel like you need to fill every hour with new experiences and activities so that you’re taking full advantage of the opportunity—but if you’re feeling culture shock, overwhelming yourself will just make you more stressed out. Give yourself rest and privacy when you need it. And if it’ll help you recharge to splurge once in a while on a nicer hotel or a meal at a restaurant that feels like home, don’t sweat it. (See “rupees and whoopies” for more on this.)

On the flip side, don’t retreat and withdraw from the host culture. Even if you’re feeling shy and out of place, force yourself to go out and become part of the community. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier.

If you’re going to be abroad for months or longer, make a support network, including other travellers who will understand what you’re going through. But don’t use them as a crutch to isolate yourself from the host country—doing so will make it take longer to adjust.

Source from Wikipedia