What is culture shock?

Common symptoms

The four stages

Culture shock is the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that many people experience when immersed in unfamiliar surroundings where they are unsure of the acceptable norms of behavior, or what to expect from other people. This is a natural part of the process of acclimatization to a new environment. It can occur in any situation where an individual is compelled to adjust to a different set of social standards where known rules no longer apply.

Culture shock is not limited to those who travel. Anyone who has recently experienced a change in surroundings can experience the feeling of disorientation that characterizes culture shock. It is common to suffer from it when on brief trips, entering college , changing home, or even jobs.

Common symptoms

Some of the more common symptoms that a person suffering from culture shock may experience are:
A sense of having lost the ability to pick up on common, unspoken cues of how people behave, or feeling as if all familiar signals are reversed.
Finding that those values, which you hold high are not respected or understood.
Feelings of anxiousness, disorientation, depression or anger.
Dissatisfaction with your new environment and the way people act.
Feeling as if you had lost the ability to successfully socially interact.
Fear that you will never get used to your new situation.

The four stages

Experts agree that there are four fundamental stages that people experiencing culture shock go through. People may experience these in different order, but usually pass through all of them before a resolution is found.

During the honeymoon stage the person is excited about their new surroundings, and view the change as an adventure to be embraced. During this phase there is strong feeling of connection with home.

The disenchantment stage the realization that things are different hits. The person feels inadequate to cope with the expectations of the new environment and experiences feelings of doubt and isolation. The latter part of this phase brings irritability and feelings of hostility toward the new people and surroundings for being unfamiliar and causing the prior feelings of depression.

Once past these negative feelings the person enters the adjustment stage as they begin to understand their surroundings better, and find ways to comfortably interact and work within the new environment. Often people in this stage adopt a humorous and ironic outlook on the differences between their culture and that of their hosts, realizing that some of their own behavior may affect the natives in the same confusing way.

The last phase is the achievement of biculturality. When the person stays within the unfamiliar environment for a long period of time,they begin to adopt the new cultural norms and are able to switch comfortably between the two as the situation may require.

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