Culture Shock: Causes and Effects

In the business industry the importance of expanding the business internationally is progressively growing. One industry which is constantly expanding its presence in international market is telecommunication industry. Telecommunication plays an increasingly important role in the world economy and as the global telecommunication industry. Due to increasing new market access and large number of global mergers and acquisitions within telecommunication industry larger number of managers and employees are becoming an expatriate working and living abroad. Therefore it is extremely vital to educate managers or employees in intercultural awareness.

One of the very important aspects in the field of intercultural is the issue of “Culture Shock”. Many theories have been proposed to explain what Culture Shock is. Although the literature covers a wide variety of such theories, this review will focus on few major culture shock models which emerge repeatedly throughout the literature reviewed.

Definition of “Culture Shock”

The word “Culture Shock” was first introduced by world-renowned anthropologist Kalervo Oberg in 1960.He used the word culture shock to describe the anxiety resulting from not knowing what to do in new culture.

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Oberg (1960) as (cited in Dharm and Richard 2000, p. 2) Defined culture “as occupational disease of people who have suddenly been transported abroad” and suggested that culture shock is “precipitated by the anxiety that result from losing all our familiar signs and symbol of social intercourse” In other words the term culture shock refers to the situation where an individual migrates from a culture to which he/she is familiar with to an unfamiliar one resulting in new experiences and causing distress and discomfort or sense of loneliness.

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Oberg definition on culture shock was supported by many renowned scholars. For example, Hofstede (1999) as (cited in Sonja Manz 2003,p.2) has also defined culture shock as a “stress of distress following the transfer of a person to an unfamiliar cultural environment . Furthermore, Alder (1975) as (cited in Yun and Qynh Le, 2012, p. 2). Also agreed with Oberg and Hosted definition and state that culture shock is a set of emotional reactions which occurred when an individual leave its own culture and move completely into a new culture. However, Marx contradicts with Oberg, Adler and Hofstede view on culture and offers far more interesting and promising view on Culture. Her view on culture shock is more interesting because she views culture shock as a positive and learning experience. Marx view on culture shock was supported by Hawes and Kealey (1981) study (Cited in Marx 1999, p6) which was conducted on Canadian expatriates working or living in Africa. The study showed that expatriates who experienced intense culture shock are most likely to adapt effectively and adjust into the new culture easily. Thus Culture Shock should be seen as positive experience not negative.

Different Theories on Culture Shock

Oberg was the first one to develop a model of adaptation that suggests that going abroad or working interntionally put individuals through a cycle of distinct phase on a way to final adaptation. The model has four stages in which expatriate goes through. The first stage is honeymoon stage. In this stage telecommunication expatriate is very excited about moving into different country. The expatriate viewed his new life as providing endless opportunities the expatriate is usually in the state of exhilaration. This is followed by crisis-phase, culture shock set in-In this stage expatriate realize that something not quite right. Expatriate feels frustrated, anxious and angry. In this stage expatriate realizes the problems and starts to cope with the new culture. This is followed by recovery stage. This third phase of recovery usually starts accepting that he/she has a problem and start to find ways to deal with the problems. Finally expatriate reached into Adjustment stage, in this stage anxiety and frustration vanishes and is replaced by confidence and acceptance of host values, the expatriate is able to work effectively and accept the culture and behaviors of host society are accepted. (Marx, 1999). Other Academic professors also came up with a model which was very similar to Oberg’s model but with a different terms. For example Adler 1975 (Cited in Pedersen, 1999 pg. 4), came up with a model which divided the process of adaptation into five stages: contact, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy and independence. Furthermore, Richard 1974 (Cited in Pedersen, 1999 pg. 4), came up with a model which named the four stages as: elation, depression, recovery and acculturation. Even though the model developed by Richard and Adler vary little bit compared to Oberg model but the general linear process of culture remains relatively constant. However Marx criticizes the model developed by Oberg, Richard and alder. She states that it is not necessary that not every individual will go through the same process according to Oberg’s models. She also states it is more realistic to use a model of culture shock that does not strictly linear but integrates a dynamic and repetitive cycle of positive and negative phases until you break through culture shock” (Marx, 1999 pg. 10).

However, one of the popular models on adjustment is U-Curve. It was initiated by Lysggard (1955) as (cited in Thomas 1947, page 221) The U-curve is very similar to Oberg’s fours stages of transition. According to (Lysggard , 1955) expatriate progress at regular interval through three phases of honeymoon, culture shock, and finally adjustment. In the Honeymoon stage, expatriate is excited about moving into new culture; new environment intrigues the expatriate in much the same way as if the expatriate was tourist. This is followed by Culture Shock stage, in this stage expatriate is frustrated and confused because the new environment is not providing familiar cues and finally reaching to Adjustment Stage, in this stage expatriate start to understand the new culture, learn the way to get things done in the new culture. In 1963 the U-Curve model expanded to W shape when repatriation is considered in other words the expatriate achieve the mastery stage and begins to function effectively into the new culture almost as well as at home. Even though U-Curve has been a really popular model but After testing 54 years of testing the research support U-Curve has not been convincing. Although some support have found for the U-Curve but it has been criticized by many scholars. Church (1982) has regarded U-curve to be very weak. Furthermore academic professor like Furnham and Bochner 1986 (cited in Jan Selmer , 1999 pg .4) Also reject the U-curve and argue that it is too vague and too generalized. However, Black and Mendenhall 1991 (Cited in Jan Selmer, 1999 pg. 6) Conclude due to the lack of methodological rigor in many of the investigations, a rejection or acceptance of the U-Curve by scholars or cross cultural trainers would be premature. Despite the lack of empirical support, the idea that expatriates might go through some systematic and discernible pattern of adjustment remains a very attractive notion both on an academic and a practical perspective.


There are a number of studies which have emerged on the culture shock but one of the most prominent theories on acculturative stress proposed by Berry was established as an alternative of word culture shock. The term culture shock was redefined by (Zheng & Berry, 1991) as a form of stress. The reason berry gave for replacing the term Culture Shock with acculturative stress is the word shock is very negative while stress can be either both positive and negative aspects. The term stress was developed based on the concept of acculturation. (Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits (1936) as (Cited in Yun & Quynh, 2012, p, 3) defined acculturation as, “Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original cultural patterns of either or both groups.”.However (Berry, 1970; Furnham & Bochner, 1986) as (Cited in Yun & Quynh, 2012, p, 3) did not agree with the definition of Refiled and Herskovits they argued that acculturation should be discussed at an individual level because acculturation is a change in the psychology of the individuals rather than group level. One of the popular acculturation model that has emerged in many studies by scholars is Berry’s acculturation strategies model .Which list four response or types or acculturation. These are Assimilation, Separation, Marginalisation and integration. This model describes possibilities of response around two dimensions and acculturation. The first, based on maintaining cultural identify and the second around maintaining links with other groups. Depending on how respondents react to these two dimensions. Berry’s (1991) model yields the fourfold classification of the acculturation model chosen by individuals. When individuals maintain a strong cultural identify, yet associated with member of other cultural group this leads to an integration strategy in which important elements of both cultures are blended. A separatist response refuses to identify with the host culture and idealizes home culture leading to increased ethnocentric societies and chaunvisnism. Individuals only weakly identifying among their culture of origin and becoming strongly attached to the host culture are assimiltionsit. Finally individual who does not have an interest in their own culture or fail to build relationship with the host local community are marginalized.

Although acculturation theory stimulated a great number of studies on intercultural. There are some questions about the theory that Scholars pose. Firstly Benet-Martinez & Haritatos, 2005 (Cited in Yun Yue & Quynh le, 2012, p. 5) Argues , that Berry Four acculturative strategies are very generalized. Secondly, Rumdmin, 2003 (Cited in Yun Yue & Quynh le, 2012, p. 3) Questioned the validity of marginsiation.

Problems caused by culture shock for expatriate

When an Individual encounters a new culture and experience culture shock .The change and unfamiliarity within the new culture affect their psychological adjustment and participation in that new cultural surrounding. This psychological. This psychological mystification and emotional discomfort usually create tremendous amount of stress. The negative impact of culture shock individual psychology often includes a large and diverse set of symptoms such as anxiety, depression etc.However, not everyone will be affected by all of these symptoms but almost all people will experience some part. When depression, anxiety and feeling of helplessness accumulate individuals who are affected by these symptoms find it very difficult to pay attention to the learning of new culture as a result it decreased their motivation of adapting new environment. However, if an individual fails to fight against the symptoms of culture shock they are more likely to become a hostile to host nationals which may lead to handicap of interpersonal relationship. It is often discussed by many scholars dealing with psychological stress caused by culture shock such as depression, anxiety very significant for those people who come in contact with new culture .( Junzi Xia,2009).Culture shock is one of the challenge that will might act as a barrier for telecommunication company.

As part of their plan they want to ensure that the process of internationalisation runs as smoothly as possible. Initial meetings and research between your team and the senior board has identified the following issues that are likely to cause challenges within cross-cultural working cause challenges within cross-cultural working

PART TWO: Recommendations for Overcoming Cross Cultural Challenges

Choose THREE recommendations to help prevent the challenges from occurring.

In this section three recommendations will be provided to the organization in order to minimize the impact of culture shock on their employees.

1. Cultural Awareness

In order to adjust quickly into a new environment. It is very important for expatriate to become familiar with the culture of the host country before departing. One of the main reasons for this it will provide expatriates a better understanding of host culture values and customs. With the familiarity of new culture expatriate can imagine of the problems or obstacles he/she might encounter as a result it will make the new surroundings more acceptable. According to research carried out by many scholars the more understanding and knowledge expatriate has about the new culture the more quickly he/she will be able to adapt to the environment. In a different culture, non verbal communication might be different, such as physical space between two people who are communicating. For example, For Americans twenty inches is normal distance during communicating .While Saudi Arabians prefer to stand closer during communicating. This can be viewed as rude and bad-mannered by Americans. Consequently when Saudi Arabian enters America , He/she might find hard to adjust in a new environment which is completely different to their home culture as a result anxiety and nervousness appear as he/she is not prepared to cope with culture shock. It is very important that expatriate has full knowledge and understanding of the new culture before they go there. This will not only help them to adapt quickly but will also lessen the chances of suffering from stress and anxiety. The disadvantage of this type of approach is it is very time consuming and sometimes it’s not possible to understand all the aspects of the new environment through books, journal etc. Before transferring expatriate aboard.It is very important that organization provide a range of literature on the country where they are sending expatriate these might include books, journals, newspapers etc. (Ferraro, 2006).

2. Cross cultural training programs

Another method I would recommend to organizations in order to lessen the impact of culture shock on their employees is to provide Pre-departure Cross Cultural Training programs. These are designed to reduce the uncertainty associated with a new environment. The purpose of these cross cultural programs is to provide information about the culture of new environment where expatriate will be working as well as to provide information how to interact with the people of that particular culture. Many Scholars have view cultural training as an effective tool for expatriate to adjust into a new environment successfully. (Mendenhall et al. 2002, p. 177) state “Cross cultural training can be effective in sensitizing individuals to cultural issues, in facilitating adjustment to foreign culture, in improving work performance abroad, and in helping employees to develop a global mindset”. Furthermore, Mendenhall 1990, (cited in Rehg, M. and Gundlach, M. 2001 p. 3) Carried out the study in which they found a significant relationship between cross-cultural training and performances. Other studies suggested this view for example, (Black et al.,1991; Harrison, 1994; Katz and Seifer, 1996) as (cited in Robert H and Mike, 2004, p. 5) Carried out studies which suggest that various forms of pre-departure and post-arrival orientation programs provided by the organization can lessen the impact of culture shock and improve cross cultural adjustment process. However Scholars like Selmer, Torbio¨rn & de Leon, (1998) as (cited in Jan Selmer , 1999 pg. 14) states that post cultural training is more effective compared to the pre-arrival-cross cultural training. Even though it is acknowledged by many scholars that intercultural training help to reduce the impact of culture shock but some top-level manager believe this kind of training is very expensive, time consuming and an effective. It can cost companies up to $80,000 or more to provide a rigorous, in- depth to an expatriate. Therefore, Some organizational officials perceive cross cultural training program waste of time and money. In some cases managers feel that’s there is insufficient time to provide the necessary cross-cultural training required and decide to forego such training.One of the biggest disadvantage of training is it is not guaranteed that after receiving the extensive training expatriate will be able to adapt more quickly in the new environment. Even though studies suggest that cross cultural training help expatriate to adapt more effectively but everyone is different some expatriate may benefit it from it some might not . Although it is very cost effective to provide cross-cultural training and some manager find it ineffective but it is really important to provide some cross-cultural training to expatriate. If the company does not provide any cross-cultural training the expatriate might take time to adapt into a new environment or might fail completely. As a result company might incur huge cost. The cost might range between around US $250,000-$1 Million (Vo¨gel, Millard and Vuuren 2008, p. 3). As (cited in Gupta, R. Et al. 2012, p. 2

Help and support during the assignment

It is very important that expatriate receives a support and assistance during their It has been proven in many studies conducted by many scholars that social support and guidance contributes significantly in adjusting into the new environment. If the expatriate does not get any support and is being left alone. It would increase the negative impact of culture shock therefore making it more difficult to adjust in the new environment. Research also show culture that emphasize interdependence suffer less from psychological stress than who live in culture which emphasizes independence Lafreniere & Cramer, 2005 (as cited in Junzi xi, 2009, p. 3), In order to avoid being left alone lot of companies who send their expatriate abroad offers support with day-to -day life like banking, transpiration etc.. Many companies have their own relocating services that helps expatriate with all the basic tasks these include organizing schools for children etc. All these measures help to prevent culture shock. Overall it is very important that expatriate keep receiving support and assistance for the 1-2 months or until the expatriate settle into a new environment. Even though it is very time consuming but it will definitely help expatriate to settle into new environment easily .If the organization cannot afford to provide cultural-training to its employee providing support and assistance is the best method they can choose to help expatriate . The advantage of this type of approach is that company does not have to spend lots of money on training and secondly, the expatriate will be able to adjust more quickly

Updated: Aug 12, 2021
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Culture Shock: Causes and Effects. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

Culture Shock: Causes and Effects essay
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