Culture in simplicity is a body of learned behavior, a collection of beliefs, habits and traditions, shared by a group of people and successively learned by people who enter the society. Furthermore, culture is learned, not inherited. If this is correct, then it can be assumed that it is not impossible to learn new cultural traits and to unlearn old ones. Therefore, it must be feasible to integrate cultural differences. Cultural adaptation would involve many essentials as, language; verbal and non-verbal, economics, religion, politics, social institutions, values, attitudes, manners, customs, material items, aesthetics and education.
Culture shock is primarily a set of emotional reactions to the loss of perceptual reinforcements from one’s own culture to new cultural stimuli, which have little or no meaning. In layman’s terms, culture shock is the anxiety resulting from losing one’s sense of when to do what and how. There are many different ways to experience culture shock. It can be experienced across the world or as near as one’s backyard. Some aspects of culture shock include strain caused by the effort to adapt, sense of loss and feeling of deprivation, status, profession, possessions, feelings of rejection and rejecting members of the new culture, confusion in role, values, self-identity crisis, anxiety, disgust, anger on foreign practices and feelings of helplessness of not being capable of adapting to the new environment.
Culture shock is a widely experienced phenomenon when people enter a different country. Many Americans would venture that they consider themselves very culturally accepting. Often, when these same Americans travel abroad, they experience culture shock. It is not always a negative thing. Often it is just the shock of being in a place that is completely different in every way from anything one has ever known.
The first Push factor is that operating in an unfamiliar environment is stressful and “hard work.” Secondly, it leads to feelings of helplessness as well as self-doubt. The role of an individual may be confused due to the new environment. Lastly, the more one learns about a different culture, the more visible differences become. The different practices could disgust a person, and the person would feel “guilty” because they “failed to respect local customs.” A good example is walking through a door regardless of other people coming behind. I did it so many times with a clear mind not knowing how detrimental in was to my reputation on campus. So many kids misunderstood my ignorance to certain American cultural norms and hated me with a passion. The two Pull factors are loss of status and the ever-common homesickness. Whenever something new happens to me, mostly in shock, I remember home. I feel so demoralized and want to return back home.
The stages do not always have smooth transition and take a different amount of time for each different individual. There is the initial contact, disintegration of the old familiar cues, reintegration of new cues, gradual autonomy and independence. Each stage is described according to the individual’s perceptions, emotional ranges, behaviors and interpretations of these. Disintegration is a period of confusion and disorientation where the differences become increasingly noticeable as different behaviors, values, and attitudes are introduced. The next stage is reintegration, which is characterized by a strong rejection of the new culture. This is the stage when visitors to a new and different country like me usually return home. It is when an individual wants to return to what they’re used to and know. Autonomy is when there is a rising sensitivity to the understanding of the new culture.
The individual is relaxed and capable of understanding what happens around them. This stage is marked by the growth of personal flexibility and the development of appropriate coping skills. The last stage is independence. This is described as attitudes, emotionality, and behavior that are independent but not “independent” of cultural influence. Basically this stage is when the individual reaches a self-actualized state of being in which they choose to explore the diversity of the world, while still maintaining their sense of self as a changing being. It is the capability of having preconceptions, assumptions, values, and attitudes challenged. I believe that culture shock has a behavioral core, meaning the behavior determines the stage of shock, it has an emotional core, meaning the emotion experienced determines the level.
Preparing for a two-year overseas college degree program in Lagos, Nigeria, I submitted to no fewer than five shots as a protective measure against everything from yellow fever to hepatitis. Although I managed to avoid any dreaded tropical disease during his assignment, I contracted one malady for which there was no vaccination. The disease was culture shock. To speak of my own experiences, I have traveled abroad several times to different countries. Each time I left Nigeria, I was convinced that the culture in the country I was visiting would not be that much different.
Every time I arrived, even so close to Nigeria in South Africa, I was bombarded by a culture difference than mine. Even within these individual countries there were different “sub-cultures” that were completely new to me. I spent a few months in South Africa and just when I thought I had gotten used to the culture, something would happen that made me experience culture shock all over again. That was quite a clash of different cultural beliefs and a difficult one to explain to my parents!
One specific example of cultural difference is the market bargain. In America, when one goes to purchase an item, most times, no matter where one purchases it, it has a set market price. In Nigeria, there is no such thing as a set price unless you go to big stores. The vendors expect and want their customers to haggle with them and bargain the prices down. When I first tried to buy a necklace, the vendor got insulted because I wouldn’t haggle and refused to sell the necklace to me. Eventually I got the hang of haggling, but as soon as I got used to that, American culture found other differences to swing my way.
Towards the end of my most recent two-month stay in a college where I intend to get my college degree, I feel reached a stage of autonomy in the model of culture shock. I was astonished by the sight of students who disregard the riches of the world and dressed in shabby outfits in practice popularly known as ‘hippies’. Many of them had metals pierced through their tongues, nipples, belly buttons, lips and eyebrows. In other countries, there’s nothing wrong with that, it was just shocking to have something I had always taken for granted so blatantly pointed out! I was appalled to find out just how “Nigerian” I am.
Therefore an understanding of cultural self-awareness is important to understand ones own logic and structure before one can understand another. Another essential ingredient is communication. For a long time, my work supervisor nursed a bad impression toward my attitude to work because I always responded contrary to her instructions. The only reason was the difficulty I had to apprehend the American accent. This problem lingered until I explained myself out. Because of this problem, many students feel uncomfortable interacting with me. It seemed to me like an unending quest to blend into the society because I had no other option other than explaining myself to a student body of seven hundred. Proficiency in communicating can also play a major role in adjusting to culture shock. Enhancing intercultural communication improves the procedural insight of a person interacting with those of another culture.
For example, it is a known fact that Americans can be very expressive and open; blunt fits well, an American expatriate going to Nigeria, for instance, will face difficulties in holding back their thoughts as Nigerians are a fairly reserved set of people. Cultures have different perceptions of how each of these categories should be interpreted to be appropriate. Americans have very high individualism and relatively low power distance; thus, they prefer to do things themselves and are equal in terms of power. Conversely many of the underdeveloped countries such as Nigeria, Hong Kong and Columbia are characterized by a large power distance and low individualism, these nations tend to be collectivist in their approach.
In summary, the home culture of an expatriate predisposes them to certain behaviors and situations. It allows them to operate efficiently in the environment. However, moving to another country changes that operating environment and makes their ‘mental software’ less efficient and effective. Better cultural understanding gives informational knowledge, in essence, about the host country and culture. My advice is not to mimic or copy local behavior, instead, just be yourself. Concepts such as values, needs, behaviors and norms are required to be understood. This information can assist them in better executing their work tasks and by knowing that culture shock may be present and is not a permanent disease will hopefully reduce their symptoms.
In order to avoid culture shock, I suggest cross-cultural training programs that emphasize the cultural differences between behaviors of two different cultures. It would provide skills and information regarding the culture so that the visitor knows what to expect with their new culture. The training is aimed at cognition and designed to change the way people think about differences between different societies. Communication, in-groups, and socially acceptable activities as well as socially unacceptable activities are all discussed and explained.
Personally, as much as I think that would help limit culture shock, nothing short from going to the different cultures itself would eliminate it completely. A doctor can’t cure a patient with out ever seeing them; I don’t think culture shock can be prevented with out exposure. I personally don’t see a problem with culture shock as long as it doesn’t result in something harmful to oneself or others. A result of learning about another culture abruptly through culture shock, is that the individual learns about his or her self, his or her own culture, and new identities in the different culture. The individual learns to grow towards multicultural perspectives and develop alternative futures for his or her self, thus making his or her self a more culturally accepting person.