Definition: describes the anxiety someone feels when they move to a completely new environment. It expresses the feelings of not knowing what to do or how to do things in the new environment.
Reasons for culture shock:
Culture shock happens when things are different and we may not know:
- The language
- How to use daily amenities like bank machines, telephones, etc.
- How to get around the city
- What is appropriate or inappropriate
Symptoms of culture shock:
The symptoms of culture shock can appear at different times. Many people feel the symptoms when the excitement of a new place is diminishing and gets replaced by daily routines after the first few weeks. The time until culture shock strikes as well as the severity strongly depends on the individual. Some—but not all—of the symptoms include:
- sadness, loneliness, depression
- worry about your health
- aches, pains and allergies
- insomnia (unable to sleep) or sleeping too much
- changes in how you normally react to situations—getting angry easily, feeling powerless
- mood swings (going from happy to sad or angry very quickly)
- unable to solve simple problems
- feelings of not being adequate or insecure
Four Stages of Culture Shock
Everyone experiences culture shock differently. Some people do not feel each stage in order and some people may skip one or more stages. Some people may be in one stage for a long time and other stages for a short time. Maybe you will feel all four stages in one day or one week.
- Stage One — You may feel pleased and very happy about your decision to be in your new environment. Everything that is new is very exciting and interesting. This stage is also referred to as the honeymoon period.
- Stage Two — You may find things are difficult to do and you become dissatisfied with your life abroad. You may feel that communicating with other people in a foreign language is difficult and causes you many problems. You may feel that your customs and culture are better than those abroad which don’t make any sense to you. At this time you may feel anger, unhappiness, sadness, loneliness, and depression.
- Stage Three — You can see humor in communication problems and cultural differences. You do not feel as lost as before and you are more comfortable with your new life. You may develop new goals and have a new sense of purpose in your studies.
- Stage Four — You can find a balance again. You are able to see the positive aspects of the foreign and your own culture. You feel a more solid sense of belonging and are satisfied with your choice to study abroad.
Re-entry shock occurs when you return to your home country and experience similar feelings of culture shock. You may have:
- trouble fitting back into your old life because your experience studying abroad changed the way you think about the world.
- feel that you have changed but the people around you want you to be the person you were before you left.
- experience other adjustment problems because you had gotten used to the way your life was as a student abroad in a new culture and now that you are back home you may feel at a loss.
How to Fight Culture Shock
The first step is to realize that any feelings of culture shock that you may be having are normal.
You are not alone. If you need to speak to someone, please feel free to speak with any of the staff at our partner school. If you feel that you need more serious help, please let someone know. The sooner you speak to someone about your feelings the more likely you will be able to adjust to life abroad successfully.
Other ways to fight culture shock are:
- Join activities and try to make new friends
- Develop a hobby
- Don’t forget the good things that your new surrounding has to offer
- Find your own little “Oasis” or hideaway where you feel comfortable (e.g.: a nice coffee house, a park, beach front, …)
- Remember that you can always speak to someone at our partner school about any problem you may have
- Be patient, going through culture shock is a process and it takes time to adjust to a new culture and life
- Be easy on yourself — remember this is a natural process that most people experience
- Don’t try too hard — accept that you will need time to adjust to your new life
- Get regular exercise — exercise tends to relieve symptoms or stress and loneliness
- Practice other relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga
- Maintain contact with your family and friends back home
- Allow yourself to feel sad or homesick about the things that you miss back home
- Establish simple daily goals for yourself
- Realize that it is OK if you are not 100% satisfied with your new life abroad - all new places have positive and negative points
- Try to focus on the positive things rather than the negative things
- Look for help — don’t suffer by yourself, let someone know how you are feeling