The 80s rock band, Iron Maiden once sang,
“Stranger in a strange land
Land of ice and snow
Trapped into this prison, yea
Lost and far away from home.”
Too often, an individual who has been introduced to a new culture may feel this way. It is a term called “Culture Shock” and it is the disorientation a person may experience when being introduced to living or traveling in a new country.
Factors in adapting
There are many considerations when visiting a country for the first time. Notable differences such as geography, food, and language may be obvious. But there may also be other differences that are less obvious including culture specific body language, disrupted circadian rhythms, safety issues, public hygiene, food quality and accessibility, among others. It’s these obvious and not so obvious factors that contribute to Culture Shock.
This phenomenon may also be a result of information overload, language barrier, technology gap, generation gap, and homesickness. It can leave a person feeling anxious, lonely, and sometimes angry. Its duration and severity can vary for every person, depending on perspective, experiences, ease at adapting, network support, and the need and ability for communication.
Experts agree that Culture Shock typically has four stages to it although not everybody follows each stage. Sometimes the names of the stages vary, but Northeastern University outlines them as:
Stage 1 – “Honeymoon” – in traveling to a new locale, individuals may feel excited, happy, and eager. Everything they see and do is fresh and exciting.
Stage 2 – “Frustration” – after the euphoria of being in new surroundings starts to wear off, an individual might start feeling sad, homesick, depressed, lonely, or angry.
Stage 3 – “Adjustment” – Eventually, the individual becomes more familiar with the people, food, customs, and language of their new surroundings. Things feel a little easier to handle as he/she makes new friends and adapts.
Stage 4 – “Acceptance” – The individual adopts their new home and feels a part of both countries. The individual is also able to compare the good and bad of their host country to that of their home country. At this stage, the individual may choose different levels of integration to the new culture.
To read a couple of accounts addressing these four stages, check out Ross Tabak’s personal experience while traveling in Southeast Asia or an essay titled “Arrival to the United States” by rabeyar22 who moved to a host country.
What you can do?
Recognize the stages and associated feelings of culture shock and understand that they will eventually pass.Learning the host language is often the best way to integrate into a new culture enabling you to make new friends and take part of the community around you. And understand that accepting a host country doesn’t mean total conversion is necessary. Many individuals become bicultural and maintain a number of customs and practices from their home country including their native tongue, food preparation, holiday celebrations, and religious observances. In other words, you can have the best of both worlds!
Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype