The What of Culture Shock

When you start your program abroad, you may feel like a fish out of water.

Newcomers feel, at times, that they do not belong, and consequently, may feel alienated from the native members of the culture. If this happens, you may want to reject everything about the new environment, and glorify and exaggerate the positive aspects of your own culture.

The severity of culture shock depends on your personality, language ability, emotional support, and duration of stay. It is also influenced by the extent of the differences, either actual or perceived, between the two cultures. There are recognized periods of adjustment, and although the stages in the cycle do not always occur in the same order, and some stages may be skipped, the following pattern is a common one.

Honeymoon Period
Initially, many people are fascinated and excited by everything new. The visitor is elated to be in a new culture. Everything is wonderful and enchanting.

Culture Shock
The individual immersed is in new problems: housing, transportation, shopping, language. Mental fatigue results from continuously straining to comprehend the foreign language. Complaints are the first symptoms.

Initial Adjustment
Everyday activities such as housing and shopping are no longer major problems. Although the visitor may not entirely understand the local language spoken, basic ideas and feelings in the second language or new dialect can be expressed.

Mental Isolation
Individuals have been away from their family and good friends for a long period of time and may feel lonely. Many still feel they cannot express themselves as well as they can in their native culture. Frustration and, sometimes, a loss of self-confidence result. Some individuals remain at this stage.

Acceptance and Integration
A routine (i.e.- work, business or school) has been established. The visitor has accepted the habits, customs, foods, and characteristics of the people in the new culture. The visitor feels comfortable with friends, the classmates, and culture of the country.

For further reading, we recommend InterNations Magazine: What is Culture Shock?