What is Culture Shock?

“Culture Shock” is the term used to describe the more pronounced reactions to the psychological disorientation most people experience when they move for an extended period of time into a culture markedly different from their own. In a sense, culture shock is the occupational hazard of overseas living through which one has to be willing to go through in order to have the pleasures of experiencing other countries and cultures in depth.

Symptoms of Culture Shock

It does not result from a specific event or series of events. It comes instead from the experience of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving or valuing things which are different from yours, and which threaten your basic, unconscious belief that your culture’s customs, assumptions, values, and behaviors are “right.”

It does not strike suddenly or have a single principal cause. It builds up slowly, from a series of small events which are difficult to identify.

Not everyone will experience a severe case of culture shock, nor see all the symptoms. Some that may occur in more severe cases include:

  • Homesickness
  • Withdrawal
  • Psychosomatic illnesses
  • Boredom
  • Unexplained fits of weeping
  • Compulsive eating
  • Loss of the ability to work effectively
  • Compulsive drinking
  • Need for excessive amounts of sleep
  • Irritability
  • Hostility towards host nationals
  • Chauvinistic excess
  • Stereotyping of host nationals
  • Exaggerated cleanliness
Additionally, there are four stages of Culture Shock that you may experience while abroad:

Initial Excitement – You’re excited about everything, exploring everything with a positive mindset. Usually, this stage lasts around two weeks to a month.

Irritation &  Hostility – aka Culture Shock Stage – All the small differences become blown out of proportion and become issues that may affect how you view the place in which you are studying abroad.

Adjusting – Adjusting to the new culture, accepting the differences, things are becoming more familiar to you. Things are becoming easier, and you’re becoming your normal self.

Adaptation or Biculturalism – You’re confident in yourself and in the culture in which you are immersed, you’re finding out new and interesting customs about the new culture and you’re at a point where you can function normally within the new culture.

Coping with Culture Shock Tips:

  • Learn as much as you can about the country.
  • Set learning goals for your study abroad.
  • Ask your study abroad coordinator for advice, or get in contact with study abroad alumni who participated in the same program.
  • Make friends with locals and students on the same program.
  • Make a conscious effort to learn the language of the country.
  • Talk to your support group (friends, family, etc.).
  • Take care of yourself!

Additional Resources: