The current study is focused on the notion of “culture shock” as a widely spread reaction of people to the changes in the social environment. Even though the symptoms of such shock existed since the first human travels, the research is quite urgent due to the rapid world globalization and considerable growth of international students. As the majority of such newcomers to the foreign countries have definite social and cultural identity, they meet a number of physical and psychological barriers on the way of their adaptation to the new environment. The aim of this research is to analyze “culture shock” as a complex phenomenon that is predetermined by a number of factors to find the most effective ways of recovering.
Rapidly globalized world and its tendencies make people face new difficulties throughout their lifetime. Among such, travelling for business, study or other long- or short-term stay in a foreign country are getting more and more common. However, the attendant changes in the environment are often stressful and may bring negative consequences for such travelers. Therefore, culture shock has become a widely spread phenomenon in the modern world. In fact, this phenomenon has been determined as the most popular reaction of the foreigners to the social and cultural changes. Among a number of possible problems that may appear as a result of new experiences and considerable life changes, the scholars indicate disorientation, depression, and anxiety among others. Hence, there are good reasons to make numerous efforts to find the underlying reasons of the culture shock-related symptoms and the most effective ways to avoid or at least decrease them. The aim of this paper is to analyze the culture shock-related studies and regard the phenomenon of culture shock as a complex problem that needs to be solved to accelerate the individual’s adjustment to the new environment and raise the possible effectiveness in all spheres.
What is Culture Shock?
The definitions of culture shock may vary according to different scholars. However, they all support the main idea that it is predetermined by the cultural and social changes but may be dependent on the individual peculiarities of a person. For the first time, the term culture shock was introduced by Oberg. He defined culture shock as “occupational disease” caused by sudden transplantation abroad . Hence, being a disease, it should have its own “symptoms, cause and cure” .
Xia emphasized that such phenomenon is not only a reaction to a different cultural environment but also the “emotional response to stress” and “psychological disorientation”. Culture shock is caused by the adjustment to a new culture and change of the emotions from being cheerful to depressed because of the radical environment changes. Hence, the strong dependence of the phenomenon on the emotions of a person makes it interconnected with the individual psychology.
The term culture shock is mostly used for the collective influence of strange experiences on cultural migrants. Even though changes in the environment are always stressful, they are less difficult when a newcomer is familiar with the differences in advance. At the same time, the false information or complete unawareness can make the migrant behave in the way that is common to the home country. As a result, such people feel lost in the translation of the foreign experiences to the native ones.
Culture shock as a phenomenon has a long history and existed since the first travel to the foreign countries. Many missioners had this “disease”, but they did not perceive it as such due to the lack of investigations. As a result, some people never recovered and stayed in this state, while the others could successfully recuperate with the help of their personal characteristics and abilities. Nevertheless, the state of culture shock always leaves the trace on the person’s behavior and beliefs.
The researches on the foreign adaptation have started approximately 40 years ago. However, there still exists a great amount of unanswered questions regarding the issue. Among them, the influence of such factors as time, aim and competences are regarded as the most influential. The most popular target group for culture shock studies has become international students. Khan and Khan defined that the meeting of two societies primarily becomes the first obligatory factor on the way to creation of such notions as “culture shock” and “academic sojourner.” For academic sojourners, primarily communication that may appear as a supportive factor together with the academic goals becomes the means to get new cultural knowledge.
Zhou et al. reported that migration studies and the aspects of the international students’ mental health in 1950s were the initial attempts to research the social and psychological problems that predetermine the culture shock. The primary and traditional approaches to migration were mostly based on investigation of grief, fatalism and selective expectations. Some other scholars focused mostly on negative life events and reactions that accompany social changes. Additionally, the view of the researcher could focus on cross-cultural contact as one that is highly stressful and necessarily needs medical treatment. Finally, the contemporary theories that appeared by 1980s are more oriented to the study of culture shock with regard to social skills and culture learning. The modern views on culture shock are mostly based on the positive actions and attempts to provide the sojourners with the appropriate preparation and orientation that would be relevant for the new culture.
New Culture and Individual
The nature of the culture shock is closely interrelated with relations between culture and person. Oberg emphasized the influence of the human-created environment with various institutions, system of beliefs and ideas as the background of the personal world perception and reactions. Therefore, a child is born without comprehension of the particular culture but the ability to learn and get used to it. Apparently, this idea can be revealed when getting familiar with the foreign culture. While ethnocentrism by implying the importance of only native culture is a barrier to learning something new, unbiased comprehension of culture equality is a way to learn something new through history, language and values.
The differences of one culture from another are the main reasons that cause the feeling of unfamiliarity among foreign people. The feeling becomes crucial while forming the depression, anxiety or feeling of helplessness to a greater or smaller amount. Thus, the mood, self-confidence and overall health of a person become the spheres that demand particular attention in such case.
Oberg paid attention to experiences that can be disturbing for the newcomers to a new country such as intestinal disturbances, uncertainties about how to communicate, strange customs, and living conditions. As a result, these factors may commonly lead to aggressive behavior, anxiety, frustration that may become the cause of inability to get adjusted to the new situation. Hence, the above-mentioned aspects should become the main ones when recovering from such state.
Recovery from Shock
According to Khan and Khan, the perception of the host community represents a complex tendency in the modern world. In fact, the exterior attitudes may either support or scare the newcomers. As the communication is the basic helpful factor, it is important to make people aware of their abilities to influence the mental state of the international guests. At the same time, in the modern world, socio-cultural behavior is largely predetermined by the stereotypes learned through different kinds of media.
According to Cushman, primarily, the native-language instructions that would teach the necessary behavior, academic and survival skills, cultural information and citizenship facts are the obligatory steps that would let students avoid many adjustment difficulties. Moreover, different degrees of intercultural and educational competencies are essential features that can predetermine the reaction of the international students. Furthermore, moral support and numerous connections that are making sure that students are encouraged and provided with the proper directions are the crucial tasks of the educational institutions oriented at the proper student’s mental state. Zhou et al. supported a common view on the issue and emphasized such aspects as culture learning, stress and coping, and social identification as the major ones to be regarded when focusing on how to avoid the negative consequences of the culture shock. Oberg stressed that people should earn foreign languages in order to make the common transitions easier. It is worth mentioning that the ability to have a friendly conversation in a strange world is always helpful. Moreover, it can contribute to the knowledge about the common interests, behaviors and habits in the country. Some other steps on the way to better adjustment to the new society include participation in various group activities with the co-workers or classmates. All of the above-mentioned ways to struggle the culture shock can obviously be effective and are aimed at making the transition to the new culture more gradual and the influence on the person’s social identity less sharp.
The long history of the human travelling around the world was full of various examples of the barriers that people can meet when finding themselves in a completely strange environment. However, the globalization of the world has made such occasions more frequent and attracted scholars’ attention to study the notion of the culture shock and the ways to avoid it more deeply. Considering the main feature of the phenomenon such as disorientation, aggressiveness, anxiety or depression caused by the inability to adjust to the new environment, the scholars considered it as a complex issue that related to the individual's personal features, communication, cultural competence, value, and language level. The best cure for culture shock includes the study of the foreign language, communication and engagement and cooperation with the groups of people around.
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