Culture shock can be described as the physical and emotional discomfort people suffer when living in a culture different from the native culture. Often, the norms of life in the native culture are not accepted or considered normal in the host culture. Everything seems different and hard to understand, and the ability to easily function in a familiar culture has disappeared.
Culture shock cannot be avoided, so it is important to be able to recognize it in order to be able to better deal with it. With effort and patience the adjustments can be made, and parents can help their children by recognizing the symptoms, listening with love and patience, and reminding their children that culture shock is normal and temporary.
Parents can determine whether students are experiencing culture shock by recognizing the symptoms:
- Sadness, loneliness, depression
- Preoccupation with health
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Feelings of vulnerability or powerlessness
- Isolationism, irritability, or loss of identity
- Inability to solve simple problems
- Lack of confidence
- Developing stereotypes about the new culture
- Obsessing about small things, like over-cleanliness
- Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited
Culture shock has many identities, from feelings of elation to feelings of resentment or depression.
Below is a table that does a good job of explaining the stages of culture shock (quoted from The Experiment in International Living Cross-Cultural Orientation Guide, 1984):
||Everything is new and exciting.
||The excitement is gone. Differences begin to emerge; questions arise about how to relate to friends or to their host family. Students may feel lonely or homesick.
||It is starting to make sense. Students can communicate basic ideas and they begin to make friends. They start to feel more comfortable in the host culture.
||Problems with friends or family of the student may surface, or the student may wonder why he/she ever went abroad and might be extremely homesick.
|They Feel at Home
||The student accepts the new culture as just another way of living. They may not approve of it always, but they accept and understand differences.
||The student begins to sense personal changes. They have mixed feelings about returning home.
Here are some ways your son/daughter can combat culture shock:
- Develop a hobby.
- Take personal time. Have them do something they like to do, like going to a café and reading a novel in English.
- It is important that they include a regular form of physical activity in their routine. This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner.
- Maintaining some contact with Americans can help to give a sense of belonging, therefore helping the student combat feelings of loneliness and alienation. HOWEVER, spending time with Americans ONLY is very harmful to the study abroad experience, as it limits a student’s interaction with the host country and also limits a student’s ability to learn the host language.
- Establishing simple goals and evaluating progress gives students a feeling of power in a culture where they may feel powerless.
- Students should be reminded to maintain confidence in themselves. Remind them to follow original ambitions and plans for the future.