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Culture Shock

Most people who travel to another country to work or study for a significant period of time go through an adjustment period to the new culture. The amount of disorientation one feels in the new situation depends on one's own background and experiences. Although there are some common traits to the culture shock syndrome, no two people will experience it exactly the same or go through what are called the Stages of Cultural Adjustment in the same order or with the same intensity. Sometimes the transition to a new culture has an immediate impact, and sometimes it is a delayed reaction.

What is Culture Shock?

It is the abrupt loss of the familiar, which leads to a sense of isolation and diminished self-importance. Culture shock is brought on by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social interaction. These signs include ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life. When you first arrive in a new culture, you feel a sense of excitement and anticipation. Later, you may feel that the differences between your culture and those in the culture of the place you are visiting are overwhelming and frustrating. It is important to remember that this is a normal reaction to sudden changes and is something that passes as you spend more time in a second culture. If you experience any of the symptoms for an extended period of time, it is important to talk to someone about it - friends, family, advisor. International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) is always available to talk with you about your experience as you adjust to life in the United States.

What Are the Symptoms and Effects of Culture Shock?

The effects of culture shock range from mild uneasiness to temporary homesickness to acute unhappiness. Irritability, hyper-sensitivity, and loss of perspective are common symptoms. Some other signs are loss of appetite, lethargy, depression, insomnia, headaches, and digestive problems.

What Can I Do to Alleviate the Effects of Culture Shock?

  • Be prepared: Be aware that it exists and that it will probably affect you in one way or another.

  • Know yourself: Clarify your own values and examine your own assumptions. Your responses to situations and people in the new culture will make more sense if you have a clear idea of what is important to you personally.

  • Be philosophical: Understand that this is a learning process and that you will benefit from it.

  • Be positive: Sometimes with a change of perspective, frustrating circumstances can be humorous and endearing. Try not to be overly critical.

  • Set goals and stay busy: Don't sit around being negative and critical. Be adventurous, make plans and try new things.

  • Avoid isolating yourself with people form the same cultural background: Don't complain about your experience, try to find someone who has gone through this experience and can offer you good advise and comfort.

  • Avoid stereotypes: Labeling such as stereotypes block realistic or fair minded appraisal or your new surroundings and delay your emergence from the state of culture shock.

  • Keep a sense of humor. Hold on to your own personal sense of humor, this will help you cope with possibly frustrating and confusing situation. Often the first sign of recovery from culture shock is the reappearance of one's sense of humor.

  • Expect reverse culture shock when you return to your home culture.

Back to Part B: Pre-Arrival Index

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