Section B

Culture Shock

Do you think studying in a different country is something that sounds very exciting? Like many young people who leave home to study in another country, do you think you would have lots of desirable fun? Certainly, it is a new experience, which brings the opportunity of discovering fascinating things and a feeling of freedom. In spite of these advantages, however, there are also some challenges you will encounter. Because your views may clash with the different beliefs, norms, values, and traditions that exist in different countries, you may have difficulty adjusting to a new culture and to those parts of the culture not familiar to you. This is culture shock. Evidently, at least four essential stages of culture-shock adjustment occur.

The first stage is called "the honeymoon". In this stage, you feel excitement about living in a different place, and everything seems to be marvelous. You like everything, and everybody seems to be so nice to you. Also, the amusement of life in a new culture seems as though it will have no ending.

Eventually, however, the second stage of culture shock appears. This is the "hostility stage". You begin to notice that not everything is as good as you had originally thought it was. You become tired of many things about the new culture. Moreover, people don't treat you like a guest anymore. Everything that seemed to be so wonderful at first is now awful, and everything makes you feel distressed and tired.

Usually at this point in your adjustment to a new culture, you devise some defense mechanisms to help you cope and to protect yourself against the effects of culture shock. One type of coping mechanism is called "repression". This happens when you pretend that everything is acceptable and that nothing bothers you. Another type of defense mechanism is called "regression". This occurs when you start to act as if you are younger than you actually are; you act like a child. You forget everything, and sometimes you become careless and irresponsible. The third kind of defense mechanism is called "isolation". You would rather be home alone, and you don't want to communicate with anybody. With isolation, you try to avoid the effects of culture shock, or at least that's what you think. Isolation is one of the worst coping mechanisms you can use because it separates you from those things that could really help you. The last type of defense mechanism is called "rejection". With this coping mechanism, you think you don't need anybody. You feel you are coping fine alone, so you don't try to ask for help.

The defense mechanisms you utilize in the hostility stage are not helpful. If you only occasionally use one of these coping mechanisms to help yourself survive, that is acceptable. You must be cautious, however. These mechanisms can really hurt you because they prevent you from making necessary adjustments to the new culture.

After you deal with your hostile feelings, recognition of the temporary nature of culture shock begins. Then you come to the third stage called "recovery". In this stage, you start feeling more positive, and you try to develop comprehension of everything you don't understand. The whole situation starts to become more favorable; you recover from the symptoms of the first two stages, and you adjust yourself to the new norms, values, and even beliefs and traditions of the new country. You begin to see that even though the distinctions of the culture are different from your own, it has elements that you can learn to appreciate.

The last stage of culture shock is called "adjustment". In this stage, you have reached a point where you actually feel good because you have learned enough to understand the new culture. The things that initially made you feel uncomfortable or strange are now things that you understand. This acquisition of understanding alleviates much of the stress. Now you feel comfortable; you have adjusted to the new culture.

Evidently, culture shock is something you cannot avoid when living in a foreign country. It does not seem like a very helpful experience when you are going through its four stages. However, when you have completely adjusted to a new culture you can more fully enjoy it. You learn how to interact with other people, and you learn a considerable amount about life in a culture that is not your own. Furthermore, learning about other cultures and how to adjust to the shock of living in them helps you learn more about yourself.