What is culture shock?

It's common to experience culture shock when you're transplanted into a foreign setting. This is a normal reaction to a new environment where you are no longer in control as you have been at home. You may experience a range of emotions when adapting to a foreign culture, from excitement and interest to frustration, depression and fear of the unknown. Culture shock is a term used to describe what happens to people when they encounter unfamiliar surroundings and conditions.

Symptoms of culture shock

People differ greatly in the degree to which culture shock affects them, but almost everyone is affected by it in one way or another. Symptoms vary, but can include:

  • boredom
  • withdrawal (e.g. spending excessive amounts of time reading; avoiding contact with host nationals)
  • feeling isolated or helpless
  • sleeping a lot or tiring easily
  • irritation over delays and other minor frustrations
  • suffering from body pains and aches
  • longing to be back home
  • unduly criticizing local customs or ways of doing things

Stages of culture shock

The five stages of culture shock are:

  1. The Honeymoon Stage - You are very positive, curious, and anticipate new exciting experiences. You even idealize the host culture.
  2. Irritability and Hostility - You start to feel that what is different is actually inferior. The host culture is confusing or the systems are frustrating. It's a small step from saying that they do things in a different way to saying that they do things in a stupid way. You may blame your frustrations on the new culture (and its shortcomings) rather than on the adaptation process.
  3. Gradual Adjustment - You feel more relaxed and develop a more balanced, objective view of your experience.
  4. Adaptation of Biculturalism - You feel a new sense of belonging and sensitivity to the host culture.
  5. Re-entry Shock - You go home and it isn't what you expected it to be.