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Culture Shock: Occupational Hazard of Overseas Living

Sometimes, despite their preparation, people find themselves in their host country feeling homesick, bored or withdrawn. They might spend all their time with countrymen, avoiding the host nationals. They may drink, eat or sleep too much. They might feel hostile or critical of the host culture. They are experiencing what many people refer to as culture shock.

Culture shock is used to describe some of these more pronounced reactions to spending an extended period of time in a culture very different from your own. Not everyone will experience culture shock. But for those of you who do, it is helpful to be able to recognize culture shock when it occurs, so you can take appropriate action.

Adjustment to a new culture tends to occur in stages. Initially, there is a honeymoon phase. You are in a new country, and everything is exhilarating and exciting. The sights, sounds and tastes are all a new adventure. And, at first, you may even see more of the similarities between your host country and the U.S. than the differences.

However, after some time, you realize that things aren't the same. Maybe you are tired of the food or struggling with the language. Maybe you are tired of long commutes whenever you need to go somewhere. Your initial enthusiasm has drifted away and you have entered the stage of irritability and hostility. Worse, you may just feel like you don't really belong.

Be patient. Almost always, these symptoms disappear with time and you will experience a stage of gradual adjustment. Things that seemed strange or just inconvenient will gradually become familiar. Lastly, there is the stage of adaptation or biculturalism. You have managed to retain your own cultural identity but recognize the right of other cultures to retain theirs. You have a better understanding of yourself and others, and you can communicate easily and convey warmth and understanding across the cultural barriers.

There is no one way to experience culture shock. It may be acute or barely noticeable. You may find it returns once after you thought you had already passed through all the stages. If you are experiencing the irritability and hostility associated with culture shock, there are positive steps you can take and the sooner you take them, the better.

Taken from Kohls, R. (1979) Survival Kit for Overseas Living, chapter 18 Culture Shock: Occupational Hazard of Overseas Living. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, MN. p. 91-100 as cited in – Read about Culture Shock


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