Culture shock

Culture shock

Culture shock is the difficulty people have adjusting to a new culture that differs markedly from their own.

Enthusiastic welcome offered to the first Indian student to arrive in Dresden, East Germany (1951)

The shock of moving to a foreign country often consists of distinct phases, though not everyone passes through these phases and not everyone is in the new culture long enough to pass through all four.[1] There are no fixed symptoms ascribed to culture shock as each person is affected differently.[2]


The Four Phases

Honeymoon phase

During this period, the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new food, the pace of the life, the people's habits, the buildings and so on. During the first few weeks, most people are fascinated by the new culture. They associate with the nationals that speak their language and are polite to the foreigners. This period is full of observations and new discoveries. Like most honeymoon periods, this stage eventually ends.[3] "When an individual sets out to study, live or work in a new country, he or she will invariably experience difficulties with language, housing, friends, school, work..."[citation needed]

Negotiation phase

After some time (usually three months but sometimes sooner or later, 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.[4]

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.

Some students 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.

Adjustment phase

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.

Mastery phase

In the mastery stage assignees 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 biculturalism stage.

Reverse culture shock

Reverse Culture Shock (a.k.a. "Re-entry Shock", or "own culture shock"[5]) may take place — returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above. This results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture.[6] The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock.


There are three basic outcomes of the Adjustment Phase:

  • Some people find it impossible to accept the foreign culture and integrate. They isolate themselves from the host country's environment, which they come to perceive as hostile, withdraw into a "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. They normally remain in the host country forever. This group is sometimes known as "Adopters".
  • 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 somewhat cosmopolitan.

Culture shock has many different effects, time spans, and degrees of severity.[7] Many people are handicapped by its presence and do not recognize what is bothering them.

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 which requires adjustment. There are many symptoms of transition shock, some which include:

  • excessive concern over cleanliness and health
  • feelings of helplessness and withdrawal
  • irritability
  • glazed stare
  • desire for home and old friends
  • physiological stress reactions
  • homesickness
  • boredom
  • withdrawal
  • getting "stuck" on one thing
  • excessive sleep
  • compulsive eating/drinking/weight gain
  • stereotyping host nationals
  • hostility towards host nationals[8]

See also


  1. ^ Pedersen, Paul. The Five Stages of Culture Shock: Critical Incidents Around the Worldd. Contributions in psychology, no. 25. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1995.
  2. ^ Barna, LaRay M. "HOW CULTURE SHOCK AFFECTS COMMUNICATION." Communication 5.1 (n.d.): 1-18. SocINDEX with Full Text. EBSCO.29 Sept.2009.web.
  3. ^ Oberg, Dr. Lalervo. "Culture Shock and the problem of Adjustment to the new cultural environments". World Wide Classroom Consortium for International Education & Multicultural studies. 29 Sept 2009.
  4. ^ Mavrides, Gregory PhD “Culture Shock and Clinical Depression.” Foreign Teachers Guide to Living and Working in China. Middle Kingdom Life, 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
  5. ^ Martin Woesler, A new model of intercultural communication – critically reviewing, combining and further developing the basic models of Permutter, Yoshikawa, Hall, Hofstede, Thomas, Hallpike, and the social-constructivism, Bochum/Berlin 2009, book series Comparative Cultural Sciences vol. 1
  6. ^ Huff, Jennifer L. "Parental attachment, reverse culture shock, perceived social support, and college adjustment of missionary children." Journal of Psychology & Theology 29.3 (2001): 246-264.29 Sept 2009.Web
  7. ^ Christofi, Victoria, and Charles L. Thompson "You Cannot Go Home Again: A Phenomenological Investigation of Returning to the Sojourn Country After Studying Abroad." Journal of Counselling & Development 85.1 (2007): 53-63. SocINDEX with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.
  8. ^ CESA. “dealing with culture shock.” Management Entity: Office of International Research, Education, and Development. Web. 29 Sept. 2009. <>

External links

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