What is culture shock? A summary
Culture shock is the result of the confrontation with a culture that is different from our own, so that a person falls into some kind of “shock.” Shock may be the wrong word. We are confused because rules we had known may no longer apply, and we do not understand what is happening.
We can’t classify the event either emotionally or rationally.
This confusion of sensations in a new environment is usually only subliminal. It also doesn’t occur immediately. In the beginning, you are excited about the new culture. Different things may be fascinating indeed: food, clothing, architecture, music. But then, problems arise in daily life.
The so-called culture shock consists of four steps:
- Honeymoon but also enthusiasm and fascination.
- Frustration: irritation, confusion, helplessness.
- Adjustment: first steps out of the confusion appear.
- Mastery: you are fully adapted and manage.
How do I deal with it?
Three things are particularly important:
- Ask questions. Ask the same thing again and again to many people, not just your best friends. Check who gives the best answers and see these people as culture consultants. With important things, ask the same question once again of several people, and then repeat the question after a few weeks.
- Listen and analyze. Listen carefully when you ask. What did the person really say, and could he or she have meant anything that wasn’t heard? How can the answer be interpreted in my context, and could this interpretation be different too? Ask questions, listen carefully, challenge the question and the answer, analyze, and if necessary, ask again. Prejudices and clichés must be challenged and checked.
- Language learning. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, it’s good to do a bit of language learning. If you have time and energy, you should invest more. Language and culture are closely related.
How should I prepare for culture shock?
Here are some concrete hints for a proper preparation:
- A short vacation trip into the country before the move may cause miracles. You enter as a tourist, then go back and have time to discover differences.
- Do not read and study too much about the new country and the mentality of the people. A bit may help, but most will only do when you are in the country.
- It’s good to know the history of your own country, especially with respect to the new host country.
- Know yourself: It may sound strange, but it is important. Am I a typical German or a typical Frenchman?
- Talk with friends and family back home about the move and how to keep in touch. This is nowadays very simple but very important. How is it going? This can be done with newsletters or an online blog. Ask for feedback. The better I can describe my experiences, the better I’ve adjusted.
- Plan and organize as simple as possible, in the least complicated way! Everything that is complicated is bad. Life becomes complex on its own, especially abroad.
How do I help others?
Ask questions, good questions and ask them more often. Besides, these are good preliminaries for good help:
- You need to take time.
- You need to tread carefully. People undergoing culture shock may be more sensitive than usual.
- If you’re speaking to your friend in a language that’s not your own mother tongue, you have to be even more careful.
- You should find common ground.
- Be patient and listen more than speak, as it may be necessary to repeat what you’re saying.
- Wait and stay optimistic!
What is different with the re-entry shock?
Re-entry shock is just an irritation of the own feelings as normal culture shock. Sometimes it’s even stronger than the normal culture shock for two reasons:
- You are less prepared because you were “just coming home.” You had been in contact with friends and family in your home country, you got their news and you thought you were up-to-date.
- Those around you don’t understand what you’re going through. They just assume you’ll be comfortable because “You’re back home!”
These mentioned hints are valid too:
- Ask questions. Show interest in the life of your friends in your home country. Dig deeper and explore differences.
- Contrast your experience abroad with the new life at home and try to understand the differences.
- Read about the recent history of your country in the years you were away may help including politics, culture and current events.
- Stay calm, even in misunderstandings.
- Give yourself time (a lot of time) to adjust. Re-entry shock may take more time than normal culture shock to get through.
- Talk to people with similar experiences.