Studying, working or living abroad can be a wonderful experience. However, this can also be an awful time in one’s life with some people finding a lot of discomfort in adapting to a new society. This impact of moving from a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar is referred to as culture shock. It includes the different feelings and apprehension people have when learning the ways of a different society. This paper looks at this “occupational disease” as is commonly known. The term ‘culture shock’ was first used by the anthropologist Oberg back in 1960.
According to Oberg, there are six main aspects of culture shock. The first is strain, an effect caused by the effort to adapt. Another aspect is a sense of loss and feelings of deprivation in relation to friends, status, profession and possessions. A third common aspect which especially affects people who relocate to a new environment without prior familiarisation with the environment’s culture and way of life is a feeling of rejection by the members of the new culture, or even rejecting the members.
Confusion in roles, values and self-identity is another equally significant aspect of culture shock. A certain variety of people may experience anxiety and even disgust or anger about practices they may encounter in their new environment. Last but not least, Oberg identified “feelings of helplessness”, a case where one may be unable to cope with the new environment. Despite the many negative descriptions that Oberg gave about culture shock, in all its diverse firms, it has been acknowledged as a part of a successful process of adaptation.
(Marx, 2001, 5) Culture shock has several stages and the many symptoms known usually occur after the first stage, the honeymoon stage. The honeymoon stage is an excitement stage experienced in the first few weeks of an individual’s relocation to a new environment. The honeymoon stage may last for even months, depending on certain circumstances, such as the person’s popularity. For instance, a well-known person may experience a long honeymoon stage, where he or she may be taken to the show places and given special attention.
This experience may not last for long if the person is forced by circumstances to remain in the place for a long period of time. It is then that the person may start having a hostile and aggressive attitude towards the host country, and many symptoms may occur. (World wide classroom, 2008) For example, excessive concern over cleanliness, where one may find the new and strange experiences in-appropriate or plain “dirty”, especially in relation to drinking water, food and bedding. Another common symptom is a desire for dependence on long term residents of one’s own nationality.
Other symptoms such as the fear of physical contact with attendants or servants, irritation over delays and other minor frustrations out of their proportion to their causes, excessive fear of being cheated, robbed or injured, great concern over minor pains and irruptions of the skin, delay and outright refusal to learn the language of the host country; and most significantly, the terrible longing to be in familiar environment, a situation where one would miss one’s relatives and friends. (World wide classroom, 2008) Everyone has been known to be affected by culture shock.
Some people adapt quite easily, but others may take years to fully adapt to their new environment. It is therefore critical to understand how to deal with it. Culture shock is unavoidable, despite a person’s status or circumstances. However, various ways have been identified of minimizing it. Some of these steps include, firstly, allowing time to find out about culture shock, which may involve tasks such as reading and carrying out research about the intended place of destination, a step which encompasses learning to recognize the symptoms and their potential impact. Secondly, expecting culture shock to happen is an important step.
This should be irrespective of location or distance, as culture shock is likely to occur in a neighbouring country as much as in a far country. The third step is identifying all the opportunities for building support networks with local people as soon as early as possible. Another equally important step to remember is not to give in to any stressful situation. Learning from people who have undergone similar experiences is an invaluable step as someone is able to avoid certain mistakes, hence adapting faster and easier. In some extreme cases, symptoms may persist despite a person’s coping efforts.
In such situations, then one is advised to seek professional help through counselors or medical profession. It is critical to remember that reverse culture shock, a situation where the symptoms of culture shock re-occur to people when they get back home is equally normal. Most importantly, is to think about the positive aspects of culture shock; it is worthy noting that people who experience culture shock adapt better than those who do not. (Marx, 2001, 18) According to recent research, the more well-traveled and practiced at absorbing, accepting and adapting one is, the more easily one overcomes culture shock.
Good adjustment to a new environment ensures that one competently performs the roles that each social context requires, thus avoiding frustrations resulting from inappropriate behaviour. (International Education, 2008) Managing culture shock is a skill which is increasingly gaining importance in almost all career fields, and can be of invaluable help to international students, job relocation and even living outside a person’s native country. Despite the many painful experiences associated with culture shock, minimizing it using the steps aforementioned can greatly assist in adapting to a new society hence maximizing one’s time and resources.
Works Cited: Eickelmann C. , The International Educational Site: Studying abroad and Culture Shock. Retrieved 29 November, 2008 from: http://www. intstudy. com/articles/ec184a13. htm Marx E. (2001) Breaking through Culture Shock: What You Need to Succeed in International Business. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. World Wide Classroom. (2006) Culture Shock and the Problem of Adjustment to New Cultural environments Retrieved 29 November, 2008 from: http://www. worldwide. edu/about/index. html
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