Culture Shock: It's Real!

The term "culture shock" was introduced in 1958 to describe the anxiety that sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place. Often, we feel that the way we lived before is not accepted, or is not considered as normal in the new place.  It can be experienced as a 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.

Cultural shock can be a great opportunity for learning and acquiring new perspectives.  Culture shock can make one develop a better understanding of oneself and stimulate personal creativity. 

5 Stages of Culture Shock

Stage 1 - you may feel euphoric 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 2 - You may encounter some difficult times and crises in daily life. For example, communication difficulties may occur such as not being understood. There may be feelings of discontent, impatience, anger, sadness, and feeling incompetent. This happens when a person is trying to adapt to a new culture that is very different from the culture of origin. Transition between the old methods and those of the new country is a difficult process and takes time to complete. During the transition, there can be strong feelings of dissatisfaction.

Stage 3 - is characterized by gaining some understanding of the new culture.  A new feeling of pleasure and sense of humor may be experienced. One may start to feel a certain psychological balance. You may not feel as lost and start to have a feeling of direction. You are more familiar with the environment and want to belong.  This initiates an evaluation of the old ways versus those of the new.

Stage 4 - you realize that the new culture has good and bad things to offer. This stage can be one of double integration or triple integration depending on the number of cultures that the person has to process. This integration is accompanied by a more solid feeling of belonging. You begin to define yourself and establish goals.

Stage 5 - is called the "re-entry shock." This occurs when you return home. One may find that things are no longer the same. For example, some of the newly acquired customs are not in use in the old culture. 

These stages are present at different times and each person has their own way of reacting in the stages of culture shock. As a consequence, some stages will be longer and more difficult than others. Many factors contribute to the duration and effects of culture shock. For example, the individual's state of mental health, type of personality, previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the language, family and/or social support systems, and level of education.

15 Ways to Fight Culture Shock

The majority of exchange students have the ability to positively confront the obstacles of a new environment. Some ways to combat stress produced by culture shock are: 

  1. Develop a hobby
  2. Don't forget the good things you already have!
  3. Be patient; it takes time to adapt to new situations.
  4. Learn to be constructive.
  5. Learn to include a regular form of physical activity in your routine. This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner.
  6. Exercise, swim, take an aerobics class, etc.
  7. Relaxation and meditation are proven to be very positive for people who are passing through periods of stress
  8. Maintain contact with the new culture. Learn the language. Volunteer in community activities that allow you to practice the language that you are learning. 
  9. Stay open minded. Keeping one's opinions flexible and receptive to new things will help adjusting to your new country.
  10. Allow yourself to feel sad about the things that you have left behind: your family, your friends, etc.
  11. Recognize the sorrow of leaving your country. Accept the new country. Focus your power on getting through the transition.
  12. Pay attention to relationships with your host family and at school. They will serve as support for you in difficult times.
  13. Establish simple goals and evaluate your progress.
  14. Find ways to live with the things that don't satisfy you 100%.
  15. Maintain confidence in yourself. Follow your ambitions and continue your plans for the future.

If you feel stressed, ask your EPC or host family for help.  There is always someone available to help you.