What is Culture Shock?
Culture Shock refers to the feelings of discomfort, uncertainty, and unease that arise due to exposure to a foreign culture. It is the reaction to displacement from one’s familiar environment. Kalo Oberg first coined the term “Culture Shock” in 1960.
Causes of Culture Shock
We experience culture shock because the new culture has different rules from our own. Things that we take for granted in our own culture turn out otherwise in a foreign environment. A new society’s rules of behavior and non-verbal communication are usually different from our own. We do not know how to act appropriately in our new environment and others do not act as we expect them, causing culture shock.
Who Experiences Culture Shock?
Anyone who spends some time abroad can experience culture chock. This holds true for tourists, exchange students, sojourners, expatriates, migrants, refugees as well as local, indigenous or ethnic groups faced with a large-scale influx of visitors from another culture. Even within organizations, there is the possibility of culture chock arising due to recruitments and transfers to new locations.
Common Symptoms of Culture Shock
- Feelings of frustration, loneliness, confusion, irritability, insecurity, and helplessness
- Unstable temperament bordering on paranoia
- Criticism of local people, culture, and customs
- Excessive concern over food, water, and bedding
- Fear of physical contact with locals
- Overreaction to minor difficulties
- Loss of sense of humor
Stages of Culture Shock
There are several typical stages of culture shock that people go through when adapting to a new culture.
- Enthusiasm: This stage can be described by initial feelings of excitement about the new culture. Everything about the culture is perceived to be great and wonderful by the individual.
- Symptoms of Culture Shock: This is the period when everything appears different and weird, if not worse. Symptoms of culture shock become evident, including a longing to spend time with people of your own culture.
- Gradual Adjustment: This stage begins when we start to understand the differences in behavior in an attempt to feel more comfortable in the new culture.
- Adaptation: This final stage occurs when the individual can appreciate life and companionship in the new culture.
Impact of Our Perceptions of Other Cultures
Our cultures define and embody our lives. Our worldviews are grounded in our cultural beliefs, providing a reference point for observations and behavior. People from different backgrounds have a different frame of reference; what one perceives to be “normal” is a consequence of the environment in which one is raised. It is also essential to realize that we are often unaware of the elements of our own culture until we are faced with another. It is helpful to remember this when encountering a new culture and when interacting with people from different backgrounds.