What is 'Culture Shock'

Culture shock is the feeling of uncertainty, confusion or anxiety that people experience when visiting, doing business in or living in a society that is different from their own. Culture shock can arise from a person's unfamiliarity with local customs, language and acceptable behavior, since norms can vary significantly across cultures.

BREAKING DOWN 'Culture Shock'

The feeling of culture shock can dissipate over time. Visitors to a new country, for example, will at first be unfamiliar with the nuances of local culture, but they will learn how to adapt as interactions with people continue. Culture shock can be daunting for those who do business abroad due to the added pressure of maintaining or developing a profitable business relationship. Many international companies provide cultural training to help reduce cultural gaffes by employees, which can affect business.

Culture shock is usually most intense at the beginning of a stay abroad – in a good way. At first, people are usually thrilled to be in their new environment, and they see it as an adventure. If someone is on a short stay abroad, this initial intrigue may define the whole experience. However, if someone has moved to the new locale on a more permanent basis, this "honeymoon" phase will eventually wear off.

After the initial glee of being in a new environment dissipates, people may actually grow frustrated with their situations. This can be the most difficult period of culture shock as fatigue sets in with not understanding various gestures, signs and language. The inability to effectively communicate is usually the prime source of frustration. This is when depression or homesickness and longing for the familiar and comfortable become most prominent.

Recovering from Culture Shock

As a traveler becomes more familiar with a place, the foreign people, customs, food and language becomes more palatable and comfortable. Navigation of surroundings gets easier. Friends are made. And everything gets a little more comfortable. Following this period of adjustment,  the final stage of culture shock is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are completely understood. Rather, it signifies realization that complete understanding isn’t necessary to function and thrive in the new surroundings. During the acceptance stage, travelers have gained the familiarity they need to feel more comfortable in all aspects of life.

Culture shock is difficult to overcome, but they are an essential aspect of the cultural experience traveling affords. By recognizing it for what it is, culture shock need not ruin the otherwise life-shaping experience traveling can be.

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