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Culture shock is defined as a feeling of uncertainty, confusion, and in some cases anxiety that might influence people exposed to an alien culture or environment without sufficient preparation. It is obvious that culture shock is not some medical condition or clinical term. Apparently, it is confusion or nervousness that affects a person when he or she leaves familiar surroundings to travel or reside in a new different culture. In new surroundings, a person will inevitably experience a considerable number of changes. On the one hand, that can be stimulating, exciting, and overwhelming. On the other hand, according to Kingsley (2013), people who experience culture shock have the following feelings:
The unwillingness to be around people who are different from you.
Trouble with concentration.
The feeling of being left out or misunderstood.
The development of negative and simplistic views of the new culture.
People from another countries and cultures may have beliefs and values which differ from values and beliefs of other people in diverse countries. Culture is a great part of the personal environment which is not solely the air one breathes or the food one eats. In fact, culture consists of common things which are learned by members of the community from parents, peers, literature, and the media. These things influence the way people look, behave, and interact. Very often these things become almost innate to the person, which means the person does not even notice he/she is learning them.
In most cases an individual enters a different culture when he/she goes to a foreign country or a new city. Sometimes, new culture and native culture may be similar. However, sometimes, they can differ or even contradict each other. Consequently, some things that are ordinary in one culture might be absolutely unusual in another.
While experiencing culture shock, different feelings can sometimes isolate a person from the new surroundings as well as dismiss new culture. In some cases people start to hate foreign culture. Mostly, it happens during the first few months when homesickness is at its highest point. Thus, it is very important not to withdraw like this and ask for help if needed.
Cultural differences can make it immensely difficult to adapt to the new surroundings. Sometimes, it can be really hard to get used to unfamiliar weather, food, and clothes, as well as schools, people, and values. It happens that in the new environment people struggle to perform tasks which were absolutely easy to do at home. Unsettling feelings are part of adjusting to a new culture. Still, there is good news. Culture shock is a temporary phenomenon.
Culture shock persists among newcomers to mainstream culture. Despite the purpose of a visit to the other country or the age of the visitor, people will always feel discomfort in the new surroundings. Although people are different, they experience culture shock differently. Some of them adjust quickly, while others need help in order to get accustomed to their new life.
Experts claim that culture shock has five stages. They are as follows: the honeymoon stage, the disintegration stage, the reintegration stage, the autonomy stage, and the independence stage. Once a person gets beyond the most difficult initial stages, life in the new surroundings becomes substantially better. Finally, in the process of adjustment to the new culture the visitor accepts customs of a new country not as something wrong or strange, but as another way of living. The visitor changes personal attitude towards new customs and becomes habituated to a new set of living conditions.
According to Kwintessential Ltd. (n.d.), Recognizing culture shock is an important way of being able to deal with it. Handling it helps minimize the risk of becoming disillusioned with a new country and the possibility of deciding that a quick return to home is the only solution.
About 38% of international students say they encountered culture shock. Time frames for culture shock experience are different for each person. The data shows that it takes less than 1 month for 26% of students, 24% of students endure it for 1-2 months, 27% of students experience it for 3-4 months, 11% of students spend from 5 to 6 month to conquer it, and 12% of students need more than 6 month.
As it seen from the data, culture shock is an inevitable segment of entering the new culture. Social adjustment is the ability to integrate successfully with others. It will be hard for people to be on a firm ground if they do not understand the language and cannot express themselves. Consequently, social adjustment immensely depends on the visitors understanding of slang, idioms, and buzz words. About 49% of international students find it hard to understand the language during the first month of studying in a new country. Moreover, it is difficult to find new friends for 22% of international students.
A peer advisor Daniel Fishel (2008) provides some tips for an international student to overcome culture shock faster and more successfully. They are as follows:
1. Be patient.
2. Remember personal goals.
3. See the adventure in the situation.
4. Use a sense of humor.
5. Deal with stress as it arises. Do not let stress accumulate.
6. Ask for help if you need it.
To conclude, the phenomenon of culture shock is an inevitable stage in the process of adjustment to new surroundings. Most people go through the stages of culture shock successfully and get over stress. Finally, adopted culture becomes a newcomer’s way of life.