What is culture shock?
Culture shock is a normal reaction to being in a foreign environment. It manifests as anxiety over losing familiar codes for cultural interaction. For example, when to shake hands, when to give tips, how to accept or refuse invitations, how to tell whether or not someone is joking…
Such seemingly small matters, taken cumulatively, can result in a feeling of helplessness, which can in turn lead to other problems like delay or refusal to learn the language.
Where does culture shock come from?
Adapted from Bloom Where You’re Planted by Virginia Joy, 1998.
- Being cut off from the cultural cues and known patterns with which you are familiar, especially the subtle, indirect ways you normally have of expressing your feelings.
- Living and/or working an extended period of time in a situation that is ambiguous.
- Having your own values (which heretofore you had considered as absolutes) brought into question, which yanks your moral rug out from under you.
- Being continually put into positions in which you are expected to function with maximum speed and skill, but where rules have not been adequately explained.
Carry a healthy emotional passport
By Janice Abarbanel, PhD Mental Health/Study Abroad, NYU Berlin
From Moving With Resilience Between and Within Cultures, The Journal of Intercultural Education, 2009
Learn to culture shift
- You’ll be a more effective learner if you transition into another culture with healthy expectations & tools for change & adaptation.
- Practice noticing & regulating the intense emotions that are part of study abroad.
- Higher levels of stress accompany cultural transitions. Mood shifts diminish your logic.
- Learn to calm yourself down & manage your energy.
- Study abroad is a process, not an event.
- Welcome the whole journey, integrating pre-departure, in-country orientation & re-entry experiences.
Common Culture shock signals:
- Irritability & hostility
- Need for sleep
- Compulsive eating or drinking
- Stereotyping of local people
- Loss of ability to work effectively
- Physical ailments
- Excessive worries over cleanliness
Effective Culture Shift Strategies:
- Eat well, exercise, keep a mood journal
- Breathe! Slow down
- Build in quiet time
- Expect fatigue
- Practice saying “I don’t know.”
- Consult with mentor & peers
- Develop a support network
- Stay alert to the signals as signs of change
- Minimize catastrophic thinking; turn “What if’s” into “What else?”
- Believe in your own ability to solve problems
- Find difference interesting
- Recognize anxiety
Be aware of how your attitude affects other people. If you come across as aggressive, people in your host country will go on the defensive. Clearly, this is not the right foot to start off on for an international friendship!
A last and crucial point: pay attention! Be prepared to get help if “signals” turn into persistent & worrisome behaviors.