ESL South Korea

Culture Shock

Eventually al novelty wears off soon enough.  Arriving in a new country, we as individuals are initially in elation over the flurry of the new. From food to sights to language to the taste of the drinking water…  everything is different and everything is exotic.

But as the tourist phase wears off, hard reality also hits in.  The reality that we are, at least for an extended period of time, going to be living in a foreign country where everything is different (and sometimes plain weird and scary).  Ever had this experience?  If not, you’re bound to have at least of tinge of what is commonly called culture shock.

Culture shock describes the anxiety and feelings felt when a person moves to a completely new environment.  It often occurs when an individual moves to a new country and is surrounded with an unfamiliar culture, unknown social mores and different people.

Often times, without realising it, we automatically assume that our cultural norms are universally upheld.  The disappointment that accompanies realising that other people groups are not as concerned with baseball, personal space, Christmas and smiling as we are, is one of the many things that leads to culture shock.

Some of the common symptoms of culture shock include:

– Sadness, loneliness and general melancholy
– Preoccupation with health
– Insomnia
– Mood swings
– Anger and irritability
– Idolizing you old country and culture
– Lack of confidence
– Feelings of inadequacy
– You get the idea…

Culture shock is a general growth process that involves learning more about a new culture, and there are various stages that most people pass through.  Some people stay between these phases for month, other pass through them quickly.  Ultimately, culture shock allows a person to analyze their own assumptions and perspectives and is a marvellous opportunity to learn more about yourself and grow that EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

Here are the basic stages of culture shock:

– The Honeymoon phase
This describes the period just after arrival in a new country.  At this point, the differences between the old and new culture are romanticized.  Everything appears to be exciting and novel.  The country even seems faultless… for a while.

– The Negotiation phase
After a few weeks, or sometimes a few months, differences in culture and norms start becoming a source of anxiety.  The subtle or obvious differences may now cause impatience, anger and feelings or irritability.  Small things like the pace of life, personal habits and humour of the host country may start to seem annoying.

– The Adjustment phase
After 6-12 months most people will have come to terms with the new culture and become accustomed to new routines and habits.  New situations will no longer scare you to death, and with an deeper understanding of the culture, things become normalized again.

Outcomes of Culture shock

1.The Rejecters
The rejecters are people who find it nearly impossible to accept the foreign culture with all its newness, and end up simply refusing to integrate in any way.  They isolate themselves from the host country’s environment which they may even perceive as hostile.  They may exclusively associate with other foreigners and be very critical about the host country’s culture.  Approximately 60% of expats behave this way.

2.The adopters
These are the foreigners who fully integrate into the host culture.  They eventually lose they own cultural identity and often times remain in the host country forever.  About 10% of expats full into this category.

3.The Cosmopolitans
These are the expats who manage to adept to aspects of the new society and integrate them with their own norms.  They may approach difficult situations with humour aimed at the host country and themselves.  About 30% of expats are in this group.

How to handle culture shock

– Focus of the positive
– Learn the language
– Be patient
– Do physical exercise
– Pay attention to relationships
– Maintain confidence