Pray, Go, Give Blog

Culture Shock


How can they eat that? Why do they do that? Why aren't they like me?

Culture Shock is experienced by everyone. It can be something we deal with as we cross the street, move from place to place within our country, and certainly when we travel abroad. Being aware of and learning how to process culture shock can bring you peace of mind and help you to have successful relationships as you travel through life.

Culture Shock (wikipedia)

Culture shock refers to the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different and unknown cultural or social environment after leaving everything familiar behind and they have to find their way in a new culture that has a different way of life and a different mindset such as in a foreign country. It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. This is often combined with a dislike for or even disgust with certain aspects of the new or different culture.

There are three basic outcomes of the Adjustment Phase:
Some people find it impossible to accept the foreign culture and integrate. They isolate themselves from the host country's environment, which they come to perceive as hostile, withdraw into a ghetto and see return to their own culture as the only way out. These Rejectors also have the greatest problems re-integrating back home after return. Approximately 60% of expatriates behave in this way.

2. Some people integrate fully and take on all parts of the host culture while losing their original identity. They normally remain in the host country forever. Approximately 10% of expatriates belong to this group of Adopters.

3. Some people manage to adapt the aspects of the host culture they see as positive, while keeping some of their own and creating their unique blend. They have no major problems returning home or relocating elsewhere. Approximately 30% of expatriates are these so-called Cosmopolitans.

The process of cultural adjustment encompasses five distinct stages:
Stage 1:
The feeling of excitement and eagerness. This stage occurs before leaving to go to the new culture.
Stage 2: The feeling that everything in the new culture is great. This stage occurs upon arrival to the new culture.
Stage 3: The feeling of everything in the new culture is terrible.
Stage 4: The feeling of adjustment. The stage where the visitor begins to feel comfortable and takes steps to become more familiar with the culture.
Stage 5: The feeling that everything is fine. The stage where the visitor has adapted to the culture and in some ways is embracing it as their own.

A book I recommend and require our staff to read is "The Art of Crossing Cultures". The overview of the subject and insights are helpful prepartion.  Here is a book review.

The book does a good job of explaining how to manage cultural incidents and how to process adjustments in a healthy way.

1. We expect others to be like us but they aren’t
2. so a cultural incident occurs
3. causing a reaction (anger, fear, etc)
4. which prompts us to withdraw, OR become aware of our reaction
5. if aware, we can reflect on it’s cause
6. our reaction subsides
7. we observe the situation
8. which results in developing culturally appropriate expectations

Have you experienced culture shock?

What was your response? Would you consider yourself a Rejector, Adoptor or Cosmopolitan?

What has it been like for you to work through this process?

Any suggestions for others who are experiencing culture shock?


3 comments so far:

Good blog! This is something I discuss with every stm team, along with the idea that just because something is different than what you see as "normal" does not make it bad or wrong.

When we first moved to Mexico we would get irritated by how loud people would play music and then we eventually learned that they were just "sharing".

Hi Tom , When I first went to a foreign mission field in the 1980"s the short term director of GEM (Greater Europe Mission) shared with me a great thought that I've shared with many others over the years as it helped me see the various cultures for what they were and not judge them right away and miss the "beauty in diversity."( I spent time in 7 European Countries in 8 1/2 mos.)>> "You'll see lots of things that don't make sense, remember, they're not wrong, just different" (similar to Rudy's thought above) This allowed me the freedom to enjoy the good in other cultures. I had more trouble with "reverse culture shock" when I returned as It seemed most of the culture in the USA was wrapped in temporal things that didn't really matter.


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