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Adapting to Culture Shock

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Have you ever heard about the term culture shock? Well, I’m pretty sure you must have heard it at least once before. But have you ever wondered what culture shock actually is and how to overcome it? So without further ado, let us dive deep into what culture shock is all about and ways to overcome it through this article.

Culture shock is a common term used to describe a person who has just been exposed to a new environment, new place, or new surroundings. But what is the actual definition of culture shock? According to Investopedia, the term culture shock refers to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety which people go through when they experience new things. Another easy way to understand this is that people often feel uncomfortable when things are out of their comfort zone.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

You may wonder why do people experience culture shock? According to Travel Insurance Review, there are multiple reasons why a person experiences culture shock. The foreign rules of social interaction in a particular environment are one of the first causes of culture shock. People's greetings, body language, spoken language, general dispositions, facial expressions, and dining schedules are just a few examples. Have you ever felt shocked when a western person kisses you on the cheek during greetings? It might be shocking to you but kisses on the cheek is just a common action when greeting someone in the western culture. The unfamiliar atmosphere and weather of other countries are the second reason why people experience culture shock. For example, the cleanliness of accommodations, the design and adequacy of restrooms, the level of noise, dress codes, the quality and quantity of food and beverages, climate, altitude, and weather of the location. Last week, I had a conversation with my friend Sean Lee. He told me about a culture shock he had while on vacation in Hong Kong with his family. When the weather in Hong Kong began to turn cold in December, Sean remembers being unable to adjust to the cold and complained to his mother about it. Finally, people experience culture shock as a result of differing attitudes and expectations. For example, not all of the countries you visit will have stores, banks, and other businesses open at times that are convenient for you.

So how do we know if we’re experiencing culture shock? Don’t forget to take note of these symptoms below then. According to, Extreme homesickness, feelings of helplessness or dependency, confusion and isolation, despair and sadness, and hyper-irritability are all prominent symptoms of culture shock. Inappropriate anger and hostility, sleep and eating disturbances, excessive critical reaction to host culture or stereotyping, hypochondria, excessive drinking, recreational drug dependency, extreme concern over sanitation, safety, and being exploited, as well as a loss of focus and inability to complete tasks are also symptoms caused by culture shock. The website also further mentioned that these symptoms are often misunderstood or overlooked because they are similar to those that can occur in everyday life.

Image from Participate Learning (Source: Sverre Lysgaard, 1955)

When it comes to culture shock, it's not just something that you can get over quickly, you will experience a whole circle of emotios throughout the entire process. According to Participate Learning, there are four stages of culture shock that you should know as shared by multiple ambassador teachers who left their home countries to live in the United States for five years. The honeymoon period is the first of these stages. Culture shock is frequently overwhelmingly favourable during this stage. A person who has experienced culture shock will be fascinated with the language, people, and food within that new environment. The frustration stage occurs after the honeymoon period has ended. According to the website, this is the most challenging period. Individuals who live abroad or travel regularly would be familiar with it. The exhaustion of not comprehending gestures, signs, and the language used in communication may occur during this stage of frustration. Small problems like missing the bus or being unable to place an order can quickly become frustrating. People who spend extended periods of time in a new nation and new surroundings are certain to experience culture shock, which is a completely natural reaction. Furthermore, at the frustration stage, despair and homesickness are quite typical. The adjustment stage is the third stage of culture shock. Frustration is frequently decreased during this stage as the person experiencing culture shock becomes more accustomed and comfortable with the new country's culture, people, food, and language. Details of local language may become more discernible when navigation becomes simpler and friends or networks of support are developed. The acceptance stage is the final of these four stages. Acceptance does not imply that someone who has undergone culture shock has fully adapted to their new surroundings and culture. Rather, it implies that complete comprehension is not required to perform in the new environment. A person experiencing culture shock is able to get together the resources they require to feel relieved at this stage.

Here’s something to ponder about. When is a person most likely to encounter or experience culture shock? Let's first categorize culture shock into two parts: short periods and long periods. Short period, meaning you can overcome culture shock within a short period of time, while long period means you will need more time to overcome culture shock because there are more things to digest. For example, short periods of culture shock can be experienced while you are in college. You won't need a long time to adapt because you are still able to make friends easily and get into a group of friends that have the same interest and hobby as you. However, when it comes to workplace or even for students studying abroad, they will need a longer time to overcome culture shock because they will be meeting different people with various cultures and social etiquettes.

Now that we have taken a look at what culture shock is and the causes of culture shock, let’s look at ways to overcome it. Firstly, understand and identify the culture. When encountering a new culture, keep an open mind; even if you don't like it, don't despise or criticise it; instead, attempt to accept it. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn about diverse cultures, such as how to cook their dishes, some of their customs, and what kinds of traditional clothes they have. Secondly, you may overcome the language barrier by trying to communicate, even if you aren't fluent in the language. Don't be afraid to try, and don't worry about what others think of you; simply speak confidently. Finally, create new acquaintances. This may seem difficult for timid people, but be confident in yourself. When you arrive in a new setting or location, attempt to approach individuals and discover a comparable topic to which you can relate so that you may blend in quickly. When conversing with others, be yourself and don't feel compelled to speak. Making new friends in a new environment or new area has the advantage of allowing you to adjust quickly to that new environment or new place since you will feel relieved knowing that you have a network of friends behind you to support you.

Culture shock is not a frightening experience; everyone will go through it at some point in their lives. Despite the fact that the process may appear frightening, always be open to learning and understanding different cultures; as time passes, you will see the positive aspects of those cultures.

By: Caleb Wong


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