What is Culture Shock? What are the implications of Culture Shock? How can I cope?
Culture Shock is a term 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.
The feeling of culture shock can usually set in after the first few weeks of arriving in a new country. It is a normal part of adjusting to new foods, customs, language, people and activities. A person with culture shock may experience some of these symptoms: irritability, headaches or stomach aches, overly concerned with health, easily tired, loneliness, hopelessness, distrust of hosts, withdrawal from people and activities, painful homesickness, lowered work performance.
Although originally written specifically for visitors to Taiwan, this article can help to guide you through some of the stages you may recognize, no matter where you may be, and show how you can fight it or learn to deal with it and overcome it’s effects.
Symptoms Of Culture Shock
Culture shock can be described as the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when living in another country or place different from his or her place of origin. Usually, the way that we lived before is not accepted or considered normal in the new country. Everything is different, for example, not speaking the language, not knowing how to use simple everyday items such as banking machines, getting a cell phone, using telephones, or knowing how to take a bus.
Learning the symptoms and knowing ahead of time of how to prepare yourself and how to deal with Chinese culture shock can make it a lot easier to overcome. The symptoms of cultural shock can appear at different times and show in different ways. Below are some of the symptoms you should look out for:
List of Culture Shock Symptoms
- Insomnia, or a desire to sleep too much or too little.
- Changes in your temperament, getting angry easily at things that usually wouldn’t bother you, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless.
- You have a preoccupation with your health.
- You start having aches, pains, stomachaches, headaches, or allergies that you usually didn’t have before arriving.
- Anger, irritability, resentment, and an unwillingness to interact with other people.
- A feeling of sadness or loneliness.
- A feeling of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused.
- Identifying only with your own culture and comparing your host country negatively to your own country.
- You wish you were home and have a strong longing for your family and friends back in your country.
- Unable to solve simple problems.
- You are trying too hard to absorb everything in the new about the culture.
- Feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence, insecurity, loss of identity, not fitting in, and doubting your ability to succeed.
- You start developing stereotypes about the local culture and the country.
- You may start developing different obsessions such as: over-cleanliness; over-tidiness; over-eating; over-drinking.
- You feel you can’t have a normal conversation with anyone.
- Having a feeling of helplessness, and thinking you need help from people in your own country.
- Being afraid to do new things or go to new places.
Stages and Examples of Culture Shock
Culture shock has many stages. Each one of these stages can be ongoing or only appear at certain times. We have listed the 5 stages of culture shock below. If you are a foreigner who is staying for a shorter period of time, you may just experience the first 2 to 3 stages of culture shock.
Stage 1 (the honeymoon stage)
In this first stage, the you may feel exhilarated and pleased by all of the new things encountered. The new things you encounter in your host country are new and exciting at first, everything is wonderful. Even the most simple things are new and interesting, taking the bus or going to a restaurant. This exhilarating feeling will probably at some point change to the next phase.
Stage 2 (the disillusionment stage)
Culture shock will happen gradually, and you may encounter some difficulties or simple differences in your daily routine. For example, communication problems such as not being understood, unusual foods, differing attitudes and customs; these things may start to irritate you. At this this stage you may have feelings of discontent, impatience, anger, sadness, and a feeling of incompetence.
This happens when you are trying to adapt to a new culture that is very different from your own. The change between your old methods and those of your host country/culture is a difficult process and takes time to complete. During the transition period, you may have some strong feelings of dissatisfaction and start to compare where you’re living to your home country in an unfavorable way.
Stage 3 (the understanding stage – enlightenment)
The third stage is characterized by gaining some understanding of Taiwan’s culture, country, and its’ people. You will get a new feeling of pleasure and sense of humor may be experienced. You should start to feel more of a certain psychological balance. During this stage you won’t feel as lost and should begin to have a feeling of direction. At this point you are more familiar with the environment and have more of a feeling of wanting to belong.
Stage 4 (the integration stage)
The fourth stage of culture shock is the integration stage and is usually experienced if you are staying for a very long period of time in in your host country. You will probably realize that the country has good and bad things to offer you. This integration is period is characterized by a strong feeling of belonging. You will start to define yourself and begin establishing goals.
Stage 5 (the re-entry stage)
The final stage of culture shock occurs when you return to your home country, often called reverse culture shock. This stage of culture shock generally only effects people who have been in a foreign country for a very long period of time (though many feel it after having lived overseas for only as little as 6 months).
You may find that things are no longer the same in your home country. For example, some of your newly acquired customs are not in use in your own country. Your friends have changed and your family may have as well. You may feel like you don’t fit in back home. Your driving habits have changed! These things will all contribute to an unusual feeling during your initial period of return.
These stages are present at different times and you will have your own way of reacting in each stage. As a result some you may find some stages can be longer and more difficult than others. There are many factors contribute to the duration and effects of culture shock. For example, your state of mental health, personality, previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the language, family, and level of education.
Shock Guide – Coping with Culture Shock
Most people who come to a foreign country (and live overseas generally) have the ability to positively deal with the difficulties of a new environment and overcome culture shock. So if you are thinking about going home or only spending time with people from your own culture/country, don’t. You have to realize that you are not alone. All foreigners to a degree have experienced what you feel; talk to your friends or other teachers at your school or place of work – they can help you feel better.
Here are some tips for dealing with the stress produced by culture shock:
Recognize the signs
- Be aware of the symptoms. Once you realize you are experiencing culture shock, you can then take steps to deal with it.
- What are the situations which confuse or irritate you the most in the new country?
- Are you misunderstanding the host people’s treatment of you? Where can you find more information about this aspect of the culture? Behavior which seems rude to you, may not be intended as rude. Polite customs are different for each culture. When situations seem senseless, remember the hosts may be following social rules unknown to you. Ask questions about social customs.
- If you are still bothered by a situation, find ways to minimize the irritation. Is the situation necessary? If not, you may be able to avoid or minimize involvement. Example: If women’s swimwear offends you, then spend shorter periods of time at the pool. Or remind yourself that swimming apparel does not reflect moral looseness as it might in your home culture.
- What do you miss the most which was enjoyable in your home country? Look for ways to meet these desires or replace these with something new. For example, if you miss your favorite Japanese pickles, go to a U.S./Japanese grocery store or ask a relative to mail some to you.
- Develop friendships with both Americans and people from your own country. At times the friendships with culturally different people will seem very taxing. That is why it is important to have people from your own country or area to spend time with also. This helps you re-energize for interacting cross-culturally. However, isolation in either group alone causes more adjustment problems.
- Talk to people from your country about your stresses and ask how they have dealt with the same situation.
- Take a course or read a book on cross-cultural communication. Ask hosts questions like, “As I understand it, you are saying that…. Is that correct?”
- Continue improving your language proficiency (watch TV, listen to the radio, read books in English).
- Have a sense of humor. Allow yourself to see the humor in misunderstandings or embarrassments. Laughter heals
- Exercise and a nutritional diet also help to reduce stress.
More Tips for dealing with Culture Shock
- Remember that some culture shock is a normal part of adjusting to a new country. However, the more severe symptoms mean the adjustment process is blocked and you need help to move into a more comfortable stage.
- Find a place where you feel comfortable and spend time there.
- Have certain times during the week or day when you don’t think about your research or problems, just have fun.
- When problems seem to be building up, mentally step back from them. Divide your problems up, understand each one, and work on them one at a time.
- If headaches and stomach aches become a constant problem, realize that they may be a sign of emotional problems, not just physical problems. If medical doctors and medication do not work, it might be time to see a counselor.
- It is important to maintain regular life patterns, for example eating meals at regular times and sleeping and exercising regularly.
- When you begin to feel depressed, ask yourself: “What did I expect? Why? Was my expectation reasonable?”
- Learn the culture and customs of the country you are in and respect them.
- Disregard your old assumptions and expectations. Be open to learning new things. Explore new ways of living and compare these to your own. Become more aware of both your values and attitudes and those of your host country.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks.
- Adjusting to a new culture requires a good amount of re-examination of your own values and outlook. Try to do that as you live in the new culture.