Culture Shock

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Moving to a new country can be exciting, even exhilarating experience. In a new environment, you somehow feel more alive : seeing new sights, eating new food, hearing the foreign sounds of a new language, and a feeling a different climate against your skin stimulate your sense as never before. Soon, however, this sensory bombardment becomes sensory overload. Suddenly, new experiences seem stressful rather than stimulating, and delight turns into discomfort. This is the phenomenon known as culture shock. Culture shock is more than jet lag or homesickness, and it affects nearly everyone who enters a new culture – tourist, business travellers, diplomats, and student alike. Although not everyone experiences culture shock in exactly the same way, many experts agree that it has roughly five stages.

In the first stage, you are excited by your new environment. You experience some simple difficulties such as trying to use the telephone or public transportation but you consider these small challenges that you can quickly overcome. Your feelings about the new culture are positive, so you are eager to make contact with people and to try new foods.

Sooner or later, differences in behaviour and customs become more noticeable to you. This is the second stage of culture shock. Because you do not know, the social customs of the new culture, you may find it difficult to make friends. For instance, you do not understand how to make “small talk,” so it is hard to carry on casual, get acquainted conversation. One day in the school cafeteria, you overhear a conversation. You understand all the word, but you do not understand the meaning. Why is everyone laughing? Are they laughing at you or at some joke you did not understand? Also, you aren’t always sure how to act while shopping. Is this store self-service, or should you wait for a clerk to assist you? If you buy a sweater in the wrong size, can you exchange it? These are not minor challenges; they are major frustrations.

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