Archive: March, 2012

What is Culture Shock?

The discomforts of making big life adjustments is known as transitional shock, and if the transition is into a foreign culture it’s known as culture shock. Occasionally I meet people who say they don’t experience culture shock, maybe with a tinge of ego (yeah, I’ve been caught saying it before), but I know they’re lying. Everyone experiences it to some degree or another depending on their personality and their situation. It has a very personal, subjective nature to it which unfortunately means there isn’t a cure-all strategy to “fix” it, but it helps to understand what it is.

Kalvero Oberg first defined culture shock and the five stages of adjustment as the behavioral and cognitive changes made during sudden immersion into a foreign culture. In the first phase of culture shock, the honeymoon stage, the newness of cultural differences make a person gitty with excitement. During the second stage the traveler focuses on these differences and starts to reject them. This nitpicky dissatisfaction turns little events in to big ones, but they’re just a behavioral reaction in the larger context of adaptation. Usually after a month or two the traveler begins the third stage of adjustment, developing routines to help them feel comfortable in the new culture. When the traveler crosses elements from home and host cultures in daily life, adjustment is just a realization that cultural differences aren’t good versus bad, they’re just different. After about a year or so the traveler enters the fourth stage where they can participate freely and comfortably in the host culture. By this stage the traveler has fully adjusted to the fact that home is a far-off place, and is using conversational ability in the local language with a group of friends. The fifth stage is complete biculturalism, but reaching this stage as an adult is extremely difficult, and should only be a goal if you’ve accepted that home won’t looking anything like it did when you left. Biculturalism creates a marked difference in the traveler’s basic conception of what home is.

Coping with Culture Shock

Makin' new friends

Without a “cure” for culture shock, it’s best to look at the strategies for coping with it. When getting ready to leave, slow the frantic process of storing your stuff, packing your bags and saying goodbye to give yourself some time to prepare for the transition. Spend a day researching the history and social etiquette of the host culture. Learn the most basic phrases of the local language before you find yourself looking for an apartment and trying to navigate your new surroundings without a clue how to speak. Remember that cultural differences are that and nothing more. Avoid making ethnocentric, moral judgments against the host culture whenever possible.

When cultural differences are too striking to ignore during the second stage of adjustment, find a way to bridge a connection to home. Write a letter to a relative, watch your favorite movie or skype with your best friend. Keep a journal about your experiences cause you’ll love to read it years later. Minimize your pride and try to find humor in the ridiculous situations you encounter. Keep a positive attitude and be persistent about learning during this important time of your life. Remember why you left home in the first place: to meet new people and fit new pieces into the great puzzle of humanity. As always, live a little adventure and bring home some stories to light up the night.

Meet Dave

Meet DaveUnfulfilled by consumer lifestyles, I left on a really slow trip around the world. As a 3rd eye traveler on the New American Dream, my aim is to inspire and cultivate conscious living along the way....Read More...

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Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.
Ray Bradbury



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