Culture Shock occurs as a result of total immersion in a new culture. Newcomers may be anxious because they do not speak the language (even in English speaking countries with their own strong accents/dialects), know the customs, or understand people’s behaviors in daily life. The visitor finds that “yes” may not mean “yes”, that friendliness does not necessarily mean friendship, or that statements that appear to be serious are really intended as jokes. The foreigner may be unsure as to when to shake hands or embrace, when to initiate conversation or how to approach a stranger. The notion of culture shock helps explain feelings of bewilderment and disorientation.
When this happens, visitors may want to reject everything about the new environment and may glorify and exaggerate the positive aspects of their own culture. The severity of culture shock depends on visitors’ personalities, 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.
The “Culture Shock Cycle” typically looks like this:
- Honeymoon Period: Initially many people are fascinated and excited by everything new. The visitor is elated to be in a new culture.
- Culture Shock: The individual immersed 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 be fluent in the 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.
Ways to combat stress produced by culture shock:
- BE PATIENT – The act of acculturating is a process of adaptation to new situations. It takes time.
- LEARN TO BE CONSTRUCTIVE – If you encounter an unfavorable environment, don’t put yourself in that position again. Be easy on yourself.
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – Learn to include a regular form of physical activity in your routine. This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner. Exercise, swim, take an aerobics class.
- MAINTAIN CONTACT WITH THE NEW CULTURE – Learn the language. Volunteer in community activities that allow you to practice the language that you are learning. This will help you feel less stress about language acquisition and feel useful at the same time.
- RELAXATION AND MEDITATION – Are proven to be very positive for people who are passing through periods of stress.
- ESTABLISH SIMPLE GOALS – And evaluate your progress.
- MAINTAIN IN CONTACT WITH YOUR HOME COMMUNITY – This will give you a feeling of belonging and you will reduce your feelings of loneliness and alienation.
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