Culture shock is a term used to describe the feelings of disorientation, confusion, and anxiety that can arise when someone moves to a new country or environment that is vastly different from their own.
It is a common experience for people who move abroad, and can be caused by a variety of factors including language barriers, different social norms, and homesickness. It can also be exacerbated by financial constraints and discrimination or prejudice.
Culture shock can be a difficult and challenging experience, but it can also be an opportunity for personal growth and learning. By recognising and acknowledging the challenges of culture shock, individuals can begin to adapt and adjust to their new environment. This may involve learning a new language, developing new social skills, and finding ways to cope with homesickness and discrimination.
Moving abroad can cause culture shock due to the unfamiliarity of the new environment. The differences in language, social norms, and lifestyles can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of disorientation, confusion, and anxiety.
Additionally, financial constraints and discrimination or prejudice can exacerbate the experience of culture shock. It is not uncommon for people to find that their perception of the country is challenged once they live there.
Culture shock is a natural part of the process of starting a new life abroad. It can be a tough experience, but it can also be a chance to grow and learn.
Factors that Contribute to Culture Shock
The Language Barrier
When starting a new life in a foreign country, one of the greatest challenges that individuals face is the language barrier. Though this is often thought of as only limited to languages that are different to the language(s) developed from an early age, a language barrier can also describe the block in communicating due to different dialects of the same language.
Communication is essential to building relationships, making friends, and fully integrating into the local community.
One way to do this is to enrol in language classes. Language classes offer a structured and immersive environment that can greatly accelerate the learning process. If it’s difficult to find language classes online, consider signing up with a site like italki to meet with teachers in your new culture’s language. Furthermore, many language learning apps are available for individuals who prefer to learn at their own pace.
Another approach is to immerse oneself in the local culture and environment. This can involve attending local events, joining volunteer groups, or simply exploring the local neighbourhood. By doing so, individuals can experience the language in a natural and meaningful way, and gain a more in-depth understanding of the local customs and way of life.
Building a network of friends and acquaintances who speak the same language can also be beneficial. This not only provides opportunities for socialisation, but also creates a support system for navigating the challenges of starting a new life abroad. Language exchange programs, community groups, and online forums are all useful resources for connecting with other individuals who share a common language.
It is worth noting that overcoming the language barrier is not an overnight process, and requires patience, persistence and a generous amount of self-kindness.
Different Social Norms
Social norms can vary greatly from country to country, and adjusting to new social norms can be one of the most challenging aspects of starting a new life abroad. Social norms are the unwritten rules that govern behaviour in a given society, and they can include everything from how people greet each other, to how they dress and eat, to how complaints are handled.
One of the main difficulties in adjusting to new social norms is simply understanding them. What may be considered polite or appropriate behaviour in one country may be considered rude or offensive in another. For example, in some cultures it is customary to remove one’s shoes before entering a home, while in others it is considered impolite to do so.
Other social norms that can cause culture shock include different attitudes towards punctuality, personal space, and tipping. In some cultures, being late to a meeting or appointment is considered rude, while in others it is considered perfectly acceptable. Similarly, personal space can vary greatly between cultures, with some cultures valuing close physical proximity and others valuing more personal space.
Adapting to new social norms requires patience, observation, and a willingness to learn. One way to learn about new social norms is to observe how others behave in different situations. Watching how locals interact with each other can provide valuable insights into what is considered appropriate behaviour in a given society.
It is also important to ask questions and seek guidance from locals or other immigrants or “expats” who have been living in the country for a longer period of time. They can provide valuable tips and advice on how to navigate the cultural landscape and avoid cultural mistakes.
The important thing to remember is that, as someone who is adapting to a new culture, you are likely to make mistakes and that these mistakes are not a sign that you are bad, wrong, or failing – instead they point to how much you are trying to learn.
Overall, adapting to new social norms can be challenging, but it is an influential part of the process of starting a new life abroad. By being patient, observant, and open to learning, individuals can successfully navigate the cultural landscape and thrive in their new environment.
Homesickness is a common experience for people who move to a new country or environment. It is a feeling of longing for home and familiarity, and can affect mental and emotional well-being (source).
Homesickness can be caused by a variety of factors, including the unfamiliarity of the new environment, the absence of family and friends, and the loss of familiar routines and activities.
Adjusting to a new environment can be difficult, and homesickness can make it even more challenging. Strategies for coping with homesickness include staying connected with family and friends back home, building a support network in the new location, and engaging in activities that bring a sense of familiarity.
It is also helpful to remember that homesickness is a common part of the process of starting a new life abroad, shared by most people who relocate countries.
Starting a new life abroad can be both exciting and challenging, but financial constraints can add an extra layer of difficulty. Moving to a new country often involves significant expenses such as airfare, housing, and visas. This assumes that the move abroad was by choice and not due to forced displacement due to needing to flee one’s home.
Additionally, finding employment in a new country can be difficult, especially if language barriers or cultural differences are present. Financial constraints can limit opportunities and make it difficult to pursue education or other goals.
Discrimination and Prejudice
Discrimination and prejudice can have a profound impact on mental and emotional well-being, and dealing with these issues can be particularly challenging when starting a new life abroad.
Discrimination and prejudice can take many forms, including racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, and can be directed towards individuals based on their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other factors.
One of the main difficulties in dealing with discrimination and prejudice is the sense of isolation that it can create. Discrimination and prejudice can make it difficult to build relationships and establish a sense of belonging in the new environment. Additionally, discrimination and prejudice can be particularly damaging to mental and emotional well-being.
Finding communities where there are shared identities or interests can be a helpful way to protect against the harms caused by prejudice. This might involve joining a women’s group, finding a gaming club or joining a sports team. Finding’s one’s place in a group is not always easy, so you may need to be kind to yourself and acknowledge the difficulties anyone might have in establishing themselves in a new group.
Understanding Culture Shock using Oberg’s Four Phases Model
In the 1950s, anthropologist Kalervo Oberg developed a four-phase model of culture shock that explains how individuals experience and adapt to a new culture.
Phase 1: The Honeymoon Phase
The first phase of culture shock is often characterised by feelings of excitement and curiosity. Everything is new and fascinating, and the individual is eager to explore and learn about the culture. They may be fascinated by the language, customs, and traditions of the new culture.
Phase 2: The Frustration/Transition Phase
Feelings of frustration and confusion are characteristic of the second phase of culture shock. As the individual begins to experience more of the new culture, they may start to notice the differences between their own culture and the new one.
They may feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the new culture, and they may struggle to communicate effectively with people from the new culture. They may also feel homesick and miss familiar things from their culture.
Phase 3: The Adjustment Phase
The third phase of culture shock is marked by a gradual adjustment to the new culture. The individual begins to understand the new culture better and learns how to navigate it more effectively. They may start to feel more comfortable and confident in their interactions with people from the new culture.
Phase 4: The Acceptance/Adaption Phase
The final phase of culture shock is defined by a sense of acceptance and belonging. The individual has fully adapted to the new culture and feels comfortable and confident in their interactions with people from the new culture. They may even come to appreciate the new culture more than their own.
A note about phase models
It is worth noting that nowadays, many researchers argue that phase models, like Oberg’s four-phase model of culture shock, oversimplify the complex and unique experiences of individuals. While models can be useful for providing a general framework for understanding particular phenomena, they may overlook the nuances and variations that exist within individual experiences.
Benefits of Adapting to a New Culture
Adapting to a new culture can be a challenging and difficult experience, but there are several benefits to overcoming culture shock and successfully adapting to a new environment.
Here are some examples of the benefits of adapting to a new culture, supported by peer-reviewed research:
Living in a new culture requires individuals to navigate new social norms, customs, and communication styles. This experience can help us develop greater empathy and understanding of others. By seeing the world from a different perspective, we can expand our capacity for empathy and become more sensitive to the needs and experiences of people from different backgrounds.
A 1993 study found that students who studied abroad demonstrated greater flexibility, open-mindedness, and independence compared to those who remained in their home country. The study also found that the students who studied abroad reported an increased understanding and appreciation of other cultures.
Adapting to a new culture requires individuals to cope with ambiguity, uncertainty, and the challenges of living in a new environment. These experiences can help individuals develop greater resilience and problem-solving skills. By learning to adapt to new situations and overcome obstacles, individuals become more confident in their ability to handle future challenges.
According to Young Yun Kim’s integrative communication theory, individuals who adapt to a new culture develop better stress and uncertainty management skills.
Adapting to a new culture requires individuals to question their assumptions, biases, and preconceptions about the world. By exposing themselves to new experiences and perspectives, individuals become more open-minded and accepting of diversity. This can lead to greater creativity, flexibility, and innovation in all areas of life.
In their book Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication, Gudykunst and Kim found that individuals who successfully adapt to a new culture demonstrate greater communication and intercultural competence, which can lead to more open-mindedness and respect for different cultural values.
Starting a new life abroad can be a challenging experience, and culture shock is one of the biggest difficulties that individuals face. Culture shock can cause feelings of disorientation, confusion, and anxiety, and can be caused by a variety of factors including language barriers, different social norms, homesickness, financial constraints, and discrimination or prejudice. However, it is also an opportunity for personal growth and learning. By recognising and acknowledging the challenges of culture shock, individuals can begin to adapt and adjust to their new environment. This may involve learning a new language, developing new social skills, and finding ways to cope with homesickness and discrimination.
Language barriers can hinder communication, making it difficult to make friends and build relationships. One way to overcome the language barrier is to enrol in language classes, participate in language exchange programs, or use language learning apps. Another approach is to immerse oneself in the local culture and environment by attending local events, joining volunteer groups, or simply exploring the local neighbourhood. Building a network of friends and acquaintances who speak the same language can also be beneficial.
Social norms can differ greatly from country to country, and adjusting to new social norms can be difficult. Adapting to new social norms requires patience, observation, and a willingness to learn.
Homesickness is a common experience for people who move to a new country or environment. It is a feeling of longing for home and familiarity. Strategies for coping with homesickness include staying connected with family and friends back home, building a support network in the new location, and engaging in activities that bring a sense of familiarity.
Starting a new life abroad often involves significant expenses such as airfare, housing, and visas. Additionally, finding employment in a new country can be difficult, especially if language barriers or cultural differences are present.
Discrimination and prejudice can have a profound impact on mental and emotional well-being, and dealing with these issues can be particularly challenging when starting a new life abroad. Strategies for coping with discrimination and prejudice include seeking support networks, educating oneself about local laws and customs, and advocating for oneself in difficult situations.
Counselling can help
Counselling can also be a helpful resource for individuals experiencing culture shock. Talking to a professional counsellor can provide a safe and confidential space to explore the challenges and emotions associated with starting a new life abroad. Counselling can help individuals to develop coping strategies for dealing with homesickness, discrimination, and other difficulties, and can provide a sense of support and validation during the adaptation process. Additionally, counselling can be a valuable resource for individuals who are struggling with mental health concerns related to culture shock, such as anxiety or depression.
In conclusion, starting a new life abroad can be a difficult and challenging experience, but it can also be an opportunity for personal growth and learning. By being prepared and open to new experiences and cultures, individuals can successfully adapt and thrive in their new environment, despite the difficulties they may face.