University of Southern Indiana

Adapting to a New Culture

Step 5

Culture Shock and Reverse Culture Shock

The term “culture shock” was introduced for the first time in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place. We can describe culture shock as the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in another country or a place different from one’s place of origin. Often, the way we lived before is not accepted as or considered as normal in the new place. Everything is different, for example, not speaking the language, not knowing how to use banking machines, not knowing how to use the telephone and so forth.

The symptoms of culture shock can appear at different times. Although one cannot experience real pain from culture shock, it is an opportunity for redefining one’s life objectives. It is a great opportunity for learning and acquiring new perspectives. Culture shock can make one develop a better understanding of oneself and stimulate personal creativity.

Ways to Survive Culture Shock

  • Don’t judge.
  • Be objective.
  • Recognize the ways you may screen out or misperceive certain things that contradict your own style of living or behavior.
  • Work through it, don’t avoid anything, and be aware of what is happening.
  • Don’t withdraw from the situation; rather, explore it.
  • Take time to get to know the people.

Remember that you are the visitor; you are there to learn about a new culture, not change it. Prior to leaving the U.S., spend some time finding out about the country you will visit.

Think about:

  • Political structure and situation
  • Geography
  • History
  • Religion
  • Social structure
  • Country’s relationship with the U.S. 

Culture Shock Pattern

Culture Shock Chart

  1. Everything is new, interesting, and exciting.
  2. Differences become apparent and irritating. Problems occur and frustration sets in.
  3. You may feel homesick, depressed, and helpless.
  4. You develop strategies to cope with difficulties and feelings, make new friends, and learn to adapt to the host culture.
  5. You accept and embrace cultural differences. You see the host as your new home and don’t wish to depart or leave new friends.
  6. You are excited about returning home.
  7. You may feel frustrated, angry, or lonely because friends and family don’t understand what you experienced and how you changed. You miss the host culture and friends and may look for ways to return.
  8. You gradually adjust to life at home. Things start to seem more normal & routine again, although not exactly the same.
  9. You incorporate what you learned and experienced abroad into your new life and career. Upon returning to the United States, the process of culture shock repeats itself, so make sure you surround yourself with friends and family that are constantly there to positively reinforce you and help you through any problems you have.

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