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Culture Shock


WRITTEN BY: Robert L. Kohls, author of "Survivors Kit Overseas Living"     ADDED ON: April 15, 2008


Sometimes, despite their preparation, people find themselves in their host country feeling homesick, bored or withdrawn. They might spend all their time with Americans, avoiding the host nationals. They may drink, eat or sleep too much. They might feel hostile or critical of the host culture. They are experiencing what many people refer to as "culture shock."


Culture shock is used to describe some of these more pronounced reactions to spending an extended period of time in a culture very different from your own. Not everyone will experience culture shock. But for those of you who do, it is helpful to be able to recognize culture shock when it occurs, so you can take appropriate action.


Adjustment to a new culture tends to occur in stages. Initially, there is a honeymoon phase. You are in a new country, and everything is exhilarating and exciting. Perhaps you are involved in a flurry of orientation and getting settled, getting hosted around the town or city. The sights, sounds and tastes are all a new adventure. And, at first, you may even see more of the similarities between your host country and the U.S. than the differences.

However, after some time, you realize that things aren't the same. Maybe you are tired of the food or struggling with the language. Maybe the university seems incomprehensible and bureaucratic. Maybe you are tired of long commutes whenever you need to go somewhere. Maybe everything is much more expensive than you anticipated. Or perhaps things are less expensive, but not of the quality or variety you appreciate at home. Your initial enthusiasm has drifted away and you have
entered the stage of irritability and hostility. Worse, you may just feel like you don't really belong. Be patient. Almost always, these symptoms disappear with time and you will experience a stage of gradual adjustment. Your sense of humor will reappear. Things that seemed strange or just inconvenient will gradually become familiar.

Lastly, there is the stage of adaptation or biculturalism. You have finally arrived. You have managed to retain your own cultural identity but recognize the right of other cultures to retain theirs. You have a better understanding of yourself and others, and you can communicate easily and convey warmth and understanding across the cultural barriers.


There is no one way to experience culture shock. It may be acute or barely noticeable. You may find it returns once after you thought you had already passed through all the stages. If you are experiencing the irritability and hostility associated with culture shock, there are positive steps you can take and the sooner you take them, the better.


Here are some do's and don'ts for dealing with the symptoms:


  • Do's: Be aware that culture shock has varying levels of effects, but it doesn't last forever.
      Try to keep busy.
    • Plan fun things to do.
    • Set goals for yourself.
    • Look for the best in your situation.
    • Enjoy the diversity of people and cultures.
    • Remember that culture shock can be a very valuable experience, which can leave you with broader perspectives, deeper
      insight into yourself and a wider tolerance for other people.
    • Keep a journal. Writing about your daily experiences provides you with a detailed record of your experience and may also help
      you cope with culture shock.


  • Do Not's
    • Don't think you're strange or abnormal. It's not surprising you'd miss some aspects of home or feel a sense of loss.
    • Don't just sit around being negative and critical; it will only prolong your unhappiness.
    • Don't focus on the bad things. Instead, look for the humor in difficult situations. Things that go wrong often make the best
      stories when you return.
    • Don't be judgmental. When you find yourself feeling like the U.S. is superior in some aspects, try to understand what
      needs your host culture is meeting by their different ways of doing things.
    • Do not be offended by characteristics of the culture which are not polite or appropriate here. Try to understand that
      country's mannerism, habits and accepted norms to avoid taking offense at things you are not used to.
    • Don't immediately call/write/e-mail your family/friends to tell them how miserable you are. The mood may pass the next
      day and you know that you are fine, but your family/friends are left thinking the worst. One tactic is to write the letter or email
      and get your frustrations out, but do not send them right away. If you feel better the next day, throw away the letter,
      delete the e-mail… if you're still upset, do share your feelings with your family or friends.
      As impossible as it may seem, reverse culture shock can also occur upon your return home.
      Be aware of this possibility and use some of the same steps listed above to help you re-adjust to life at home.



      This article is a part of Mr. Kohls' book "Survival Kit for Overseas Living". Many government and nonprofit agency officials who plan to live abroad have read it. Mr. Kohls passed away August 7, 2006. He lived a full life striving to improve cultural understanding. His surviving wife, Norma Kohls, granted Englipedia permission to host this article.



This page was last modified on Saturday, May 28, 2016 03:36:01 AM