Culture Shock Waves

We were counseled before we left to watch “Cast Away.” His story shows the progressions of (extreme) cultural shock/transition. There’s the initial crash: it’s chaos; he almost drowns. But then he survives. He figures things out and his situation seems to be improving. Then it gets worse, emotions and stresses are high. There is a ‘rock bottom’ point. (I don’t want to give the movie away, so I’m being vague.) It was a little nerve wrecking to watch an airplane crash three days before flying over the Atlantic! HA! But it was good to watch and make myself aware of the ‘waves’ of culture shock.

Here is a neat chart that walks you through the ‘waves’ of culture shock from University of Arkansas.

culture_shock_roller_coaster

How to survive Culture Shock:

  • Be aware—read up on culture shock. Be informed and expect that you have roller coaster ahead of you
  • Watch for it—Look for symptoms of culture shock (from the website).
    • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively
    • Lack of appetite or compulsive eating or drinking
    • Intense homesickness
    • Withdrawal (avoiding contact with others, becoming reclusive and studying all the time, reading a lot, sending lots of emails home)
    • Blaming the host country and yourself for not having a good time
    • Becoming very pessimistic about everything — the food, weather, people, teachers, and other students all intolerable
    • Becoming a native — everything American is bad, and host country is good
  • Accept it & Cope—Remember things will get better! If you need help, please ask someone! There are always others who have walked the road we travel.
    • Don’t be afraid to reach out to your program contacts or friends if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms commonly associated with culture shock.
    • Also, have your parents and loved ones read this section so they can understand what you will be going through while studying abroad. It is possible you may call them soon after arriving demanding to come home or sobbing from homesickness and it is good for them to know more about what to expect.
    • Additionally, you should consider:
      -Keeping a journal, it may help you keep some perspective on your experience
      -Keeping yourself from isolation
      -Reminding yourself that rough and stressful times are part of the learning experience
      -Reminding yourself that adjustment takes time
      -Talking to friends/program contacts when you are having a difficult time
      -Being open-minded and keeping your sense of humor
      -BEING FLEXIBLE — be prepared to accept whatever comes alone

This is the ‘wave’ that most people go through. But be aware: every person is different. Every person processes differently and is impacted by emotions differently. Even between spouses and children, they will ride the ‘waves’ differently and at different speeds.


Do you have experiences with culture shock? Any stories to tell, advice to give, wisdom to share?

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