What is Culture Shock?
Culture Shock is a term used to describe the anxiety and feeling (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, fear, etc.) felt when people have to operate within an entirely different cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country. It is a very unpleasant, yet very common experience one goes through when in a foreign country.
Getting used to the new culture, the new surroundings, weather, people, systems can be very challenging. The feelings of lack of direction, lack of deep emotional connection to your surroundings, lack of friendships, relationships, financial worries, means of transportation, etc are just few of the many things a person going through culture shock has to experience. This experience can cause severe emotional and physical discomfort.
Deeper Reasons On Why We Experience Culture Shock
Culture shock is a normal reaction to change. When you move from one country to another country, change is experienced at many levels: Social, Financial, Health, Cultural, Weather, Lifestyle, Relationships etc…
We are overwhelmed by changes at so many levels, and hence we experience a shock. Some people deal with this shock directly, some deny it, and some are not even aware of it.
If nothing is done to resolve the culture shock, we may develop attitude and behaviors that would control our success and happiness for rest of our lives.
Regardless of whether or not we accept it, humans are resistive to change. Change takes conscious effort.
This resistance adds up to the shock. The stronger is our resistance to change, the heavier is the culture shock we experience.
Charles Darwin, the father of theory of evolution, is very well known for his remarkable research: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” This clearly shows how important it is to adapt.
Over the course of history of mankind, evolutionary psychologists have studied the human adaptation and have pointed out that human beings adapt for two primary reasons: Survival Advantage or Reproductive advantage. But in modern society, neither of these two threats is relevant anymore. So we have developed a very strong resistance to change.
Instead, human beings value comfort and security of routine life so much that change is perceived as the biggest threat. Our irrational fears limit us from exploring and reaching our full potential.
When a shuttle takes off, it uses up 90 % of its fuel just to get out of earths gravity. It’s the basic law of nature that most of the energy is consumed in the initial phase of new process. Once the momentum is gained, it is easy to make the progress. The strongest form of Culture shock is experienced in the initial phase because that phase requires the fundamental level of shift in all areas of life.
Symptoms of Culture Shock
Here are some of the typical symptoms of culture shock:
· Sadness, loneliness, depression
· Anger, increased irritability
· Loss of Identity, sense of self
· Lack of confidence
· Feelings of insecurity, Excessive fear of being robbed, or injured.
· Great concern over minor pains and skin irruptions
· Allergies, Aches
· Terrible longing to be back home
· Confusion, unable to solve simple problems
Stages of Culture Shock
As Dr. Carmen Guanipa (San Diego State University) points out, there are several stages of this experience:
Honeymoon Stage: Everything is new and exciting. One enjoys the excitement of being in a new place and new culture.
Transition Phase: This phase is one of the hardest phases of culture shock. This is when all the communication difficulties arise, and one goes through strong feelings of dissatisfaction. This is typically when reality of being away from home, in a foreign culture hits the person.
Evaluation Phase: This is when one experiences the feelings of direction and psychological balance. Evaluation of old vs. new cultures takes place and slowly and gradually, one starts the process of accepting the new culture.
Integration Phase: In this phase, one starts experiencing the feelings of belonging and adapting new cultural beliefs. New culture is slowly and gradually accepted and is internalized as one’s own culture. This is the phase when one starts feeling the part of whole. Integration phase is typically the end of culture shock and beginning of a life as part of the new culture.
Amy C. is an immigrant entrepreneur living her American Dream. She came to the United States in 2001. Her experiences as an immigrant gives her perspective on how to deal with culture shock and how to create a successful life as an immigrant.
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