First introduced in 1954, the term "culture shock" describes the anxiety and feelings of surprise, disorientation, and confusion felt when people have to operate within an entirely different cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country. Culture shock is an entirely normal and well-researched experience that affects every study abroad student to some degree. Culture shock grows out of the challenges students may face in adjusting to a new culture. The different stages of culture shock are outlined below with several coping strategies to try before and after departure. It's important to note that while culture shock is common among many students and international travelers, it is typically mild and lasts only for a brief time. Knowing more about culture shock and various ways to handle it can better prepare you to cope effectively if you should experience similar challenges while abroad.
From Pre-Departure to Return: The Cycle
1. Before Take-Off:
The first stage of culture shock begins before you even leave the States. This includes your preparation for your journey, farewell activities, and research about the host culture. General feelings during this time include varying excitement and nervousness about your time abroad.
2. Honeymoon Phase
The honeymoon phase begins when you step off the plane into your new country and usually lasts for a few days up to a few weeks. In this stage, the excitement of experiencing a foreign culture is predominant. Maybe you run around the city with your camera in hand, call home to tell your parents how much you adore the country and its people, or regard a morning commute on the transportation system as a thrilling adventure. This phase is the high of culture shock and is sometimes described as euphoria.
3. Deepening Culture Shock/Irritability
This stage is what most people think of upon hearing the phrase culture shock. The initial excitement of the honeymoon phase has ended, and now you are settling down into your new city. Suddenly, you find yourself frustrated with everyday tasks and the differences between your home country and the host culture become glaring. You may feel disoriented, isolated, and hyper-irritable. Students experience this stage with varying degrees of severity. It may be a slight nagging feeling, or it could feel like a deep depression in the most extreme cases. Luckily, even if it may not seem like it, these feelings do fade.
During this stage, feelings of foreignness begin to lessen. Your host country begins to feel comfortable, and you may feel a part of it rather than an outside observer. The emotional ups and downs of the previous stages level out as you adapt to your new way of life. You are orientated and can recognize subtle cultural cues that may have been lost on you upon arrival. This stage typically lasts until the end of your time abroad.
This stage of culture shock begins upon return to your home country, and, though it may seem like the end of the cycle, for many students, this is the most difficult and painful part of culture shock. A separate section on reverse-culture shock is included below for those who are facing re-entry.
General Patterns of Behavior
Aside from the chronological stages of culture shock, there are four behavior patterns that will characterize most study abroad students reaction to culture shock.
The Fugitive withdraws from contact with others and spends much time on their own, reading, surfing the internet, or sleeping. Though this student does blame the foreign culture, he or she is more ashamed to feel homesick after having dreamt of a great experience abroad.
The Chauvinist reacts to culture shock by spending much of his or her time talking about the superiority of his or her home country to anyone who will listen.
The Critic focuses less on the...
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