By World Family Education
Families moving to a new country will encounter new cultures. Some of those cultures are indigenous to the new country, and some are foreign to the new country, especially those within the international community. Some of the cultures will be localized to a community such as an international school or workplace.
A common response to encountering new cultures is what is known as culture shock. It’s a combination of grief over losing familiar aspects of one’s home culture and the challenge of dealing with many surprising aspects of the new cultures.
The onset of culture shock can appear in two different ways:
- The first is in the initial wave of disorientation that a person experiences when arriving in a new culture. Everything feels unfamiliar — people, places, and surroundings seem foreign and overwhelming.
- The onset of culture shock may also begin a few months after the move when disappointment and frustration set in. Sometimes a family starts their international adventure with excitement and anticipation, but this perspective shifts as they go through difficulties. This is a normal phase of adjustment, and you can read more at the World Family Education Transitions page.
In both cases, culture shock is usually a temporary state of mind, and will likely dissipate as your family gets used to the new living environment.
Interestingly, people can experience culture shock when returning to their home countries after adjusting to the cultures in their host country. This is known as reverse culture shock. Some typical places this shows up is when the person is driving and shopping in a grocery or department store.
Causes of Culture Shock
It’s helpful to recognize the key aspects of life that can cause culture shock:
Responding to Culture Shock
People respond to culture shock in different ways, and some can move beyond this phase quickly. Others need more time.
Your attitude toward the new culture greatly shapes your ability to adapt. In a TED Talk, author Julien Bourrelle describes three ways individuals can react when they move into a new culture: confront, complain, or conform.
Those who confront or complain have decided — perhaps subconsciously — that their own cultural values are better than the local ones. They may refuse to try new ways of doing things or speak negatively of the local culture, even to their children.
Those who desire to conform will observe, listen, and do their best to understand the people in the new culture — even when they are uncomfortable. Clearly, the “conformers” will adapt most quickly.
Practically speaking, a few suggestions may help you deal with culture shock:
Culture shock. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture%20shock.
Work the World. “Why Culture Shock Is Good for You.” Retrieved March 25, 2019, from www.worktheworld.com/blog/why-culture-shock-is-good-for-you.