Culture shock doesn't come from a specific event but from interacting in a new culture over a length time while not understanding the cultural cues. It is like trying to play a game of cards without knowing whether the Aces are high or low or if the Jack is wild. In the process, your own values and culture are called into question as you try to navigate your new home. It’s good to know the signs of culture shock so that you can recognize it in yourself or your classmates.
What should I expect?
Culture shock generally leads students to experience a series of ups and downs that we refer to as the “w-curve”. Be prepared for the emotional highs and lows and know that your classmates are experiencing them too. Embrace the discomfort knowing that in the end you will have a better understanding of who you are and differing cultural perspectives.
During culture shock, you might feel:
You may experience:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty solving simple problems
- Stereotyping new culture
Stages of Culture Shock
1) Initial Euphoria
3) Gradual Adjustment
Stages 2 and 3 may be experienced multiple times throughout your time abroad as you become more and more comfortable in your host culture. Frustration may occur the more you begin to notice the cultural cues that aren’t quite so obvious but affect the way people interact with you.
Most students experience a period of transition when they arrive in a new place. Many students say they feel slightly out of step, not sure what is appropriate. Everything seems new and different from language to street signs to table manners.
What should I do?
- Know before you go. Research the country and its culture.
- Try to understand the differences. Most traditions have a history and provide logical explanations for what you might find odd.
- Remember that it’s ok to fail. Be prepared to laugh at your mistakes (Like that time you meant to tell your host family that you were full but instead said that you were pregnant, oops!) [- Or another example here...?]
- Talk about your feelings and experiences, but don’t spend too much time being negative.
- Make local friends and ASK QUESTIONS!
- Journal your experiences. Identify a specific event that was confusing to you. Re-read half-way through your stay. Does everything make sense now?
- Trust in yourself that you will be fine. Take the highs with the lows and know that ultimately you will have a memorable experience.
Work to be:
- Willing to make mistakes
If you find that you are having trouble managing the symptoms of culture shock, Miami University Student Counseling Services is available to you even while you abroad. To contact them, please call 513-529-4634 or email studentcounseling @MiamiOH.edu.
Culture Shock Resources
Bennett, Milton J. ed. Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communications. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1998.
Kohls, L. Robert. Survival Kit for Overseas Living. Yarmouth, ME: Nicholas Brealey/Intercultural Press, 2001.
La Brack, B. (2013, January 10) What's up with culture? Retrieved from http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/index.htm
Storti, Craig. The Art of Coming Home. Yarmouth, ME: Nicholas, Brealey/Intercultural Press, 2001.
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