Culture shock refers to the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within an entirely different cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country. It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. This is often combined a dislike for or even disgust (moral or aesthetical) with certain aspects of the new or different culture. The term was introduced for the first time in 1954 by Kalervo Oberg.
Phases of culture shock
The shock (of moving to a foreign country) often consists of distinct phases, though not everyone passes through these phases and not everyone is in the new culture long enough to pass through all three:
- The "Honeymoon Phase" - During this period the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new foods, the pace of the life, the people's habits, the buildings and so on.
- The "Negotiation Phase" - After a few days, weeks, or months, minor differences between the old and new culture are resolved. One may long for food the way it is prepared in one's native country, may find the pace of life too fast or slow, may find the people's habits annoying, etc.
- The "Everything is OK" phase - Again, after a few days, weeks, or months, one grows accustomed to the new culture's differences and develops routines. By this point, one no longer reacts to the new culture positively or negatively, because it no longer feels like a new culture. One becomes concerned with basic living again, as one was in their original culture.
- Reverse Culture Shock - Returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above.
In some cases, it may be impossible to deal with culture shock. Some people will give up on assimilating into the newer culture and return to their own culture, and some become so magnetized to the foreign culture that feel they must permanently move there to relieve the stress.
Coping with culture shock
Experienced travelers tend to cope much better with the difficulties of travel. Some common strategies used to make the transition easier are::
- Reading about the country and its culture before departing. This way, the country and its people are more familiar upon arrival. They then become aware of differences in the new country and are thus better prepared to deal with them when possible (e.g., differences in hygiene, culture, the water).
- Avoiding being offended, offending locals, or being engaged in any more general cultural misunderstanding; they familiarize themselves with local customs and language.
- Being open-minded about the culture they visit.
- Taking a 'time out' or rest apart from cultural exchange in order to reduce the 'shock' of adjustment.
Religions play an important part in this case. The culture shock feeling, in many circumstances, grows because of the different religions.
Some intercultural communication researchers claim that culture shock has many positive effects on intercultural sojourners, like increasing self-efficacy and helping improve self-motivation.