Monday, 10 May 2010

Culture Shock

The term, culture shock, was introduced for the first time in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment for example to another country. When everything is different: language, customs, level of development we can suffer from the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate.

The symptoms (emotional and physical) apear after the first few weeks of coming to a new place. It can be:

* Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
* Preoccupation with health
* Aches, pains, and allergies
* Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little
* Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless
* Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others
* Identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country
* Loss of identity
* Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country
* Unable to solve simple problems
* Lack of confidence
* Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
* Developing stereotypes about the new culture
* Developing obsessions such as over-cleanliness
* Longing for family
* Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused

However, culture shock is not any medical term. It's just a common way to describe the confusing and nervous feelings a person may have after leaving a familiar culture.

Normally, we even don't realise how important for us is our culture. But if we have to face a culture which is different we can experience culture shock which has different stages:

The honeymoon stage
When you first arrive in a new culture, differences are intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and curious. At this stage you are still protected by the close memory of your home culture.

The distress (disintegration) stage
A little later, differences create an impact and you may feel confused, isolated or inadequate as cultural differences intrude and familiar supports (e.g. family or friends) are not immediately available.

Re-integration stage
Next you may reject the differences you encounter. You may feel angry or frustrated, or hostile to the new culture. At this stage you may be conscious mainly of how much you dislike it compared to home. Don't worry, as this is quite a healthy reaction. You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture.

Autonomy stage
Differences and similarities are accepted. You may feel relaxed, confident, more like an "old hand" as you become more familiar with situations and feel well able to cope with new situations based on your growing experience.

Differences and similarities are valued and important. You may feel full of potential and able to trust yourself in all kinds of situations. Most situations become enjoyable and you are able to make choices according to your preferences and values.

(adapted from Robert L. Kohls: Survival Kit for Overseas Living)

Of course, the length and intensity of each stage varies from person to person. Many factors contribute to the duration and effects of culture shock. For example, the individual's state of mental health, type of personality, previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the language, family and/or social support systems, and level of education.


What do you think about it? Do you have some ideas how to fight culture shock?


  1. Personally I have never been in foreign culture for so long that I achived even second stage. Because of that symptoms you gave haven't appearanced to me. I don't know how to fight with culture shock, I don't know even if it would be good to fight with it. You noticed that in general it's normal situation and it ends after some time, so I think we should accept it, hoping that after some time we will get used to new culture.

  2. I can imagine that being far away from home may be a bit depressing, especially when we don't know the culture of the country in which we're staying and everything is new for us. But I think that most of all people feel some kind of excitement because we discover something new and original... But it also depends on the character, I think. In my opinion all the stages that are above-mentioned are true but some people can feel stronger e.g. autonomy stage or disintegration stage.

  3. I hope that culture shock isn't any chronic state. I agree with Michał - if it appears, we should let it be, and wait till it is over.
    The most effective fight is to stay in familiar culture. When we are forced to move to a completely new environment, we are depend on our own individual impressions, but need to adapt somehow.

  4. For me culture shock is a rather nice feeling, but if you can share it with other people-family or friends. When you feel adandoned and there's noone from your mother country it can be really hard. Sometimes to decrease culture shock is good to look for paralels- in food, absurdal sitoautions from everyday life, nature.

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  6. Like Michał I've never been for very long in some foreign culture. My longest trip was to Paris, where culture isn't extremaly different and I've stayed there for 3 weeks. I was curious and fascinated by new things... but now I remember that at first I was a little homesick. I happens to me always at the begining of journey, because it's the time when I realize that I'll be home by 2-3 weeks, and until then I won't be able to see any of my friends or familly. But later, when I'm closer to come back I have very good time :).
    I think although that if I would go for example to Asia and I was forced to stay there even for 2 months I would have all the stages of culture shock that are mentioned in the text.

  7. Culture is very important for the people. I can imagine situation that somebody who is away from home or own country and probably he feel stange and lost. He must know other culture but he can't forget tradicional and culture his own.

  8. Culture shock is completely natural and we shouldn't fight with it in some particular way, just let it disappear with the flow of the time. We can minimalize effects of culture shock by appropriate preparations- knowing better foreign culture before moving abroad (reading about it or traveling there).

  9. I think that culture is very important issue for everyone of us, and we shouldn't feel threatened by culture shock because I think that as time goes by it just dissappear naturally.

  10. It's probably it dissapperas because the word becames global village. People travel more and more and the cultures are mixing, for instance: the Adidas' logo is known in USA, Europe, Asia and Africa. But it's true many customs are characteristic for only one country and they will be characteristic for long time, I suppose.

  11. Differences between cultures are precious because they make world diverse and interesting place. Ofc we need some time to adapt them but when we don't want to make home from the place which we are visiting we should admire them and try incorporate the best but within respect and caring for our own culture, which is sometimes underestimated.

  12. I didn’t know that exist a fix term „cultural shock”, it was very interesting to read about it. According to my experience it is totally true. During my stay in foreign country, which was pretty long, I had all the mentioned stages. However, I was still in the circle of western culture. Staying for longer in country with completely different culture would be much harder I suppose.

  13. I my opinion familiar culture is very important for all people in different ages..But unfortunately we can't appreciate our culture till we'll lose it.That's sad that we miss when we go abroad,to foreign country.We start to think about our family,homeland,traditional customs,food and of course language.We want to see and feel our country...

    But when we are living abroad or just travelling we can also find out something about new culture.We can get knowledge about something different,sometimes strange or even exciting for us.

    So,culture shock is not so bad...
    First,we will feel lonely but that will change and we meet new,interesting culture..

  14. Culture schock is not bad when it doesn't touch us directly.A culture schoch is rather sometimes funny an interesting for us as foreigner.

  15. I have never experienced "cultural shock" because I have never been abroad.
    Of course when somebody is in another country for the first time,it is hard: new culture,new people,new mentality...
    We need to be open to the new experiences :)
    But I must agree that the length and intensity of each stage varies from person to person.

  16. Culture shock we feel when we leave to another country very different from our country.Fortunately I have never experienced this, but it seems to me that this is a very similar feeling accompanied by people who come from a small town to big city.

  17. I have never been in foreign culture, but I think that experience new cultures may be vary funny when we meet nice people. Our memories can be more interesting than memories from country from Europe.

  18. To my opinion negative effects of culture shock that are connected with new society are caused by bad attitude of travellers. If you do not accept foreign culture you should not complain on it. If you are forced to live abroad you have to accept their customs because you are guest. It we talk about physical effects of changing climate I think that traveller should gain as many informations as he can and prepare to this.

  19. I think shock culture can learn us tollerance for another people and thinking for another way.
    Maybe in the first minute it is brutal but it doesn't last long time.It may be interesting...

  20. The term, culture shock, I know only from hearsay. Personaly I never experienced a culture shock. But I think this may be a very seroius problem for foreginers. We should help other people. Meaby we also will need this type of assistance?

  21. I think that man can adopt to any location and get used to customs prevailing there if only wants and is enough strong-willed to win "culture shock",example of it are people which residing in such distant country like India or China,of course not many is these people,but even USA -it is also far country and different of our country but many people from Poland decides to live there and assume a family.So,I think that culture shock is not as severe ailment that has closed the border between the countries.

  22. I've experienced culture shock few times in life. To be honest, it was an interresting experience. You look at those poeple's everyday life and you it seems unbelivable, it's just so different from what you know. In my oponion everyone should try to get know different cultures (if he/she can afford it of course)...but it's always great to come back to your country, your city and your haouse after all this ;)

  23. Evrytime when I come back from home to Warsaw I'm experiencing culture shock.It's just hard for me get used to the city, especially when I stay at home longer than one week. And I can't do anything about it. I think that the best thing for me for forgetting about the feelings which are combine with the culture shock is stress at the university: exsams, quizes; thanks to them I can realize why I'm here.

  24. Culture in the home country shapes our personality. In today's world, culture shock is rather rare, because anyone can learn a foreign culture, such as the Internet or the provided travel guide. Certainly some things in a different culture can surprise or frighten man but you can prepare for it. However, sometimes you will need to learn certain behaviors, which may seem inconsistent with ours, to go native with a foreign society.

  25. I think that every culture shock is natural and necessary. Thanks to it we can know others cultures, habitats of foreign people. This shock causes that we start to interest in it and we can form an opinion about others cultures.

  26. I don't have any idea how to fight culture shock. I haven't experienced culture shock in foreign country, but I often experience it when I go out. I feel like a researcher who studies culture of primitive tribes when I observe people who don't clean up after theirs dogs or take bread in market with theirs bare hands. I'm amazed by lack of culture of some young people. I'm astonished by ignorance of students. It makes me really confused. Because of this people language and their customs I don't know what to do. I think that it can be called culture shock ;)

  27. In my opinion now we can learn and further explore foreign cultures and culture shock is rare, but of course can appear.I think that basically for particular culture other cultures are not well-known, but this is what makes them so unique and what encourage us to gain more information about them.

  28. I also never experienced the culture shock on myself. Even I don't know whether in Poland somebody is passing it, we are very much nice nation, we are helping and much we are smiling, foreigners cannot experience the shock, because still are in a nice place. I can say towards foreign students we are helpful and hospitable, I overlooked so that anybody of my friends from other countries had such symptoms!

  29. I like to learn about other cultures. The most interesting for me is culture of Islam. I know that the culture of Islam shock many people from the West. Many people are afraid of Islam, becouse they don't know it.
    I would like to in the future come close look at Islam.

  30. I also agree that most attempts to fight culture shock would most probably be ineffective. It is just something that some people feel because of their anxiety and fear of the unknown. In my opinion the best way to deal with it is just to try to keep thinking positively and optimistically. It should pass in its own time.

  31. I think that it's nothing new. It is common that when you go to another country and you stay there for a long time you're not be able to fast acommodation. In that case it's good to have someone there who show you what to do and what say...the worst thing it's to go to another country and sit there alone....

  32. Always, when I'm abroad longer than 1 week I start to long for Poland. And I don't care that our country is poor or ugly (to the others)... because this is my country and I don't want to leave in other place! It is hard to say what is the name of this behaviour, but it can be some culture shock!

  33. For me culture shock is a nice feeling. I like visit foreign country and watching how people live. When I was in Arabia Saudyjska for me big shock was the praying people on the street always when the bell give then signal to praying. Always when I come back to Poland I am in culture shock how different we are from other country.