Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life. One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of four distinct phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation.
Common problems include: information overloads, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), boredom (job dependency), ethnicity, race, skin color, response ability (cultural skill set). There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, as individuals in any society are personally affected by cultural contrasts differently.
Culture shock generally comes in four stages.
Step 1: The Honeymoon Stage
During this stage, everything is new and interesting. You may experience a feeling of euphoria and be in awe of all the differences you see and experience. You feel excited and stimulated, and you still feel close to everything familiar back home. During this stage, you generally focus on the similarities between you home country and your host country, but you appreciate the differences as well.
Step 2: The Distress Stage
Once the honeymoon stage wears off, you may suddenly start getting frustrated or annoyed by your new country, specifically the customs and values. The things you’re experiencing no longer feel new; in fact, it’s starting to feel like the strangeness of a new culture is preventing you from experiencing things. You may feel hostility toward the way things are done here, and you may think that they should be done in a different way. You start to idealize life “back home,” and may feel that your current culture, language, and food are inferior to what you’re used to. You feel confused and alone and may realize that the familiar support systems of home are no longer easily accessible to you. Don’t worry; this is perfectly normal.
Step 3: The Orientation Stage
The Orientation Stage is the first stage in acceptance. During this stage, you begin to understand why things are done in a certain way. You start to respect the culture and traditions, whether you consider them to be good or bad. You begin to feel more comfortable in your new environment, and you begin to have a more positive outlook. You feel more confident and better prepared to cope with any problems that might arise. Remember that culture shock is not a perfectly linear experience; you may return to the Distress Stage multiple times until you hit.
Step 4: The Adaptation Stage
During this stage, your attitude changes and you are able to function in both cultures. You have embraced the new culture and are able to see it in a new, yet realistic, light. In this stage you are typically well-oriented to your new life and have developed your own habits and routines. You feel comfortable, confident, and capable of making decisions. You no longer feel alone and isolated; instead, you start to feel at home.
Reverse culture shock
Reverse culture shock (also known as “re-entry shock” or “own culture shock”) may take place returning to one’s home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above. These are results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture. The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock. This phenomenon, the reactions that members of the re-entered culture exhibit toward the re-entrant, and the inevitability of the two are encapsulated in the following saying, also the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe: You Can’t Go Home Again.
Reverse culture shock is generally made up of two parts: idealization and expectations. When an extended period of time is spent abroad we focus on the good from our past, cut out the bad, and create an idealized version of the past. Secondly, once removed from our familiar setting and placed in a foreign one we incorrectly assume that our previous world has not changed. We expect things to remain exactly the same as when we left them. The realization that life back home is now different, that the world has continued without us, and the process of readjusting to these new conditions as well as actualizing our new perceptions about the world with our old way of living causes discomfort and psychological anguish.
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 that requires adjustment. There are many symptoms of transition shock, including:
- Compulsive eating/drinking/weight gain
- Desire for home and old friends
- Excessive concern over cleanliness
- Excessive sleep
- Feelings of helplessness and withdrawal
- Getting “stuck” on one thing
- Glazed stare
- Hostility towards host nationals
- Mood swings
- Physiological stress reactions
- Stereotyping host nationals
- Suicidal or fatalistic thoughts