Culture shock

Definition of culture shock

What is culture shock?

Culture shock refers to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to a new country or experiencing a new culture or environment. This cultural adjustment is normal and results from being in an unfamiliar environment.

Culture shock can occur when people move to another city or country, for example when retiring abroad. Culture shock can also occur when people go on vacation, travel for retirement or business, or study abroad for school. For example, international students studying abroad for a semester in another country may experience cultural adjustment due to unfamiliarity with climate, local customs, language, food, and values.

Although the timing of each person’s adaptation process may be different, there are specific phases that most people go through before adjusting to their new environment. Culture shock can be quite stressful and lead to anxiety. However, it is possible to overcome it and grow accordingly.

Key points to remember

  • Culture shock refers to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to a new country or environment.
  • Culture shock can occur when people move to a new city or country, go on vacation, travel abroad, or study abroad for school.
  • A cultural adjustment is normal and results from being in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Culture shock is generally divided into four stages: honeymoon, frustration, adaptation and acceptance.
  • Over time, people can familiarize themselves with their new surroundings by making new friends and learning customs, which leads to an appreciation of the culture.

Understanding culture shock

Culture shock occurs when an individual leaves the comfort of their home and familiar surroundings and moves to an unfamiliar environment. The adaptation period can be quite intense, especially if the two places are completely different, such as moving from a small rural area to a large metropolis or moving to another country. People can also experience culture shock when moving from one place to another within the same country.

As a general rule, no event causes culture shock, nor does it happen suddenly or for no reason. Instead, it builds gradually from a series of incidents, and culture shock can be hard to identify while struggling with it.

The sensation is particularly intense at first and can be difficult to overcome. It is important to remember that cultural adjustment generally dissipates over time as a person becomes more familiar with a place, the people, the customs, the food, and the language. As a result, navigating the surroundings becomes easier, friends are made, and everything becomes more comfortable.

The adjustment process due to culture shock can improve over time, leading to growth and appreciation of the new environment.

The 4 stages of culture shock

People who experience culture shock can go through four phases which are explained below.

The honeymoon stage

The first stage is commonly referred to as the honeymoon phase. It’s because people are thrilled to be in their new surroundings. They often see it as an adventure. If someone is on a short vacation, that initial excitement can define the whole experience. However, the honeymoon phase for longer-term movers eventually ends, even though people expect it to last.

The frustrating phase

People may become increasingly irritated and disoriented as the initial joy of being in a new environment wears off. Fatigue can set in gradually, which can result from misunderstanding other people’s actions, conversations, and ways of doing things.

As a result, people may feel overwhelmed by a new culture at this stage, especially if there is a language barrier. Local habits may also become increasingly difficult, and previously easy tasks may take longer to accomplish, leading to burnout.

Some of the symptoms of culture shock can include:

  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • Homesickness
  • Depression
  • Feeling lost and out of place
  • Tired

The inability to communicate effectively – to interpret what others want to say and to be understood – is usually the main source of frustration. This stage can be the most difficult period of cultural adaptation, as some people may feel the need to withdraw.

For example, international students adjusting to life in the United States during study abroad programs may feel angry and anxious, leading them to withdraw from new friends. Some experience eating and sleeping difficulties during this stage and may consider going home early.

The adaptation phase

The adaptation stage is often gradual as people feel more comfortable in their new environment. Feelings from the frustration phase begin to subside as people adjust to their new surroundings. Although they may still not understand some cultural cues, people will become more familiar, at least to the point that interpreting them will become much easier.

The acceptance stage

During the acceptance or recovery phase, people are better able to live and enjoy their new home. Typically, beliefs and attitudes toward their new surroundings improve, leading to increased self-confidence and a return of their sense of humor.

Obstacles and misunderstandings from the frustration phase have generally been resolved, allowing people to become more relaxed and happier. At this point, most people experience growth and can change their old behaviors and adopt the ways of their new culture.

During this stage, the new culture, beliefs and attitudes may not be completely understood. Yet the awareness can settle into that full understanding is not necessary to function and thrive in the new environment.

A specific event does not cause culture shock. Instead, it can result from encountering different ways of doing things, being cut off from behavioral cues, questioning your own values, and feeling like you don’t know the rules.

How to overcome culture shock

Time and habits help manage culture shock, but individuals can minimize the impact and speed recovery from culture shock.

  • Be open-minded and learn about the new country or culture to understand the reasons for cultural differences.
  • Do not indulge in thinking about home, constantly comparing it to the new environment.
  • Write a journal of your experience, including the positive aspects of the new culture.
  • Don’t isolate yourself, be active and socialize with the locals.
  • Be honest, wisely, about feeling disoriented and confused. Ask for advice and help.
  • Talk about your cultural background and share it – communication works both ways.

What is the definition of shock culture?

Culture shock or adjustment occurs when a person is cut off from their familiar environment and culture after moving or traveling to a new environment. Culture shock can lead to a flurry of emotions including excitement, anxiety, confusion, and uncertainty.

Is culture shock good or bad?

Although it may have a seemingly negative connotation, culture shock is a normal experience that many people have when they move house or travel. Although it can be difficult, those who can resolve their feelings and adjust to their new surroundings often overcome culture shock. As a result, cultural adjustment can lead to personal growth and a favorable experience.

What is an example of culture shock?

For example, international students who have come to the United States for a semester of study abroad may experience culture shock. Language barriers and unfamiliar customs can make it difficult to adapt, leading some students to feel angry and anxious. As a result, students may withdraw from social activities and experience minor health issues such as trouble sleeping.

Over time, students become familiar with their new surroundings by making new friends and learning social cues. The result can lead to growth and a new appreciation of culture for the student abroad as well as friends in the host country, as both get to know each other’s culture.

What are the types of culture shock?

Culture shock is generally divided into four stages: honeymoon, frustration, adaptation and acceptance. These periods are characterized by feelings of excitement, anger, homesickness, adaptation and acceptance. Note that some people may not go through all four phases and not reach the acceptance phase. They may experience difficulty adjusting which could create permanent introversion or other forms of social and behavioral reactions.