Coping strategies for Culture Shock

 

CULTURE SHOCK (Leslie Clear)

 

CULTURE SHOCK IS THE NATURAL HAZARD OF INTERNATIONAL LIVING THAT ONE HAS TO BE WILLING TO EXPERIENCE IN ORDER TO EXPERIENCE THE PLEASURE OF KNOWING OTHER CULTURES IN DEPTH.  LIVING IN A FOREIGN CULTURE IS LIKE PLAYING A GAME YOU’VE NEVER PLAYED BEFORE AND FOR WHICH THE RULES HAVEN’T BEEN EXPLAINED VERY WELL.  THE CHALLENGE IS TO ENJOY THE GAME WITHOUT MISSING TOO MANY PLAYS – LEARNING THE RULES/DEVELOPING SKILLS AS YOU GO ALONG.

 

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            Culture shock is not selective – it happens in one form or another to everyone.  It is an inevitable part of moving from a known environment to an unknown one.  This term can refer to phenomena ranging from irritability to psychological panic and crisis.  It is associated with feelings of estrangement, anger, hostility, indecision, frustration, unhappiness, loneliness, homesickness and even physical illness (chronic colds, stomach problems). Four distinct phases have been identified in the process of culture shock – the length of each phase varies with the individual but, in general, each phase lasts longer than the preceding one.

 

            1)         FASCINATION:  This is an initial period of time when everything is new and there are seemingly few problems since everyone is being extremely accommodating.  The predominant feeling during this period is one of exhilaration at being at last in the new environment after a long period of anticipation at home. 

 

            2)         WITHDRAWAL FROM NEW CULTURE/SEEKING FAMILIAR TIES: Immediately following the initial euphoria comes the stage in which the need to structure a new social and support system to replace the one left behind becomes paramount.  At this time there is an understandable, but potentially dangerous, tendency to gravitate exclusively to the company of one’s fellow countrymen and to take refuge in the familiar. 

 

            3)         FRUSTRATION:  After enough time has elapsed to become familiar with the country, make initial contacts, and understand requirements of a new job or school, a stage of frustration begins (often inadvertently fueled by unintentional mutual support from the expatriate group). At this time, the problems and difficulties that are inevitably part of the adjustment process seem to outweigh any possible or potential sense of achievement.  The physical environment may seem unpleasant, demands of school and work difficult. Hostility develops toward the new environment and becomes a predominant emotion with homesickness as the by-product.  It is at this point that people sometimes decide that the whole experience isn’t worth it and that an early return home is preferable to remaining permanently miserable.

 

4)                 
FULFILLMENT/ADJUSTMENT/ADAPTATION: The previous stage WILL

COME TO AN END as the cultural comfort level increases and then leads into a period in which the experience becomes fulfilling. The onset of this phase stems from a personal realization and acceptance that the new environment is unlikely to change and that, if the experience is going to be satisfying, it is the individual who must adapt and learn to operate within its confines. This may result in compromises but also in the realization that conflicts can be worked out and that there is potential for success and happiness in a foreign culture.

THE PROCESS OF CULTURE SHOCK OFTEN REPEATS ITSELF OVER TIME. HOWEVER, IF ONE IS AWARE OF THE PROCESS OF CULTURE SHOCK AND TAKES STEPS TO ENTER FULLY INTO THE NEW CULTURE, IT WILL PASS MORE QUICKLY.

 

COPING STRATEGIES FOR THOSE EXPERIENCING

CULTURE SHOCK IN THE U.S.

 

One of the problems in dealing with homesickness and culture shock is that frequently people don’t realize, or may deny that they are experiencing it.  The feelings they are having are ascribed to other causes.  It is difficult to counteract something you don’t believe is affecting you, but once one does recognize what is happening, there are a number of things to do to make it through the culture shock process.  As ESL teachers, we can encourage our students who are new to the U.S. or who seem to be experiencing culture shock, to employ these coping strategies:

 

1.                 
Find American people to interact with.  Ask them questions, be gracious in sharing

yourself with them, and take an active and genuine interest in them. 

 

2.         Surround yourself with some familiar things – favorite clothes, your pillow/blanket, photos, music, and books.  Make your immediate environment pleasant and reinforcing and quickly integrate your new experiences into your past memories (decorate walls with pictures of family and friends back home AND new friends/ activities encountered in the United States).

 

3.         Slow down.  Relax.  Let your emotions catch up with the newness all around you. Do your best to simplify your daily tasks.  Seek assistance from cultural informants – don’t assume you have to do EVERYTHING by yourself!

 

4.         Develop patterns.  Follow the same routine each day so that you get a sense of establishing something that becomes “familiar.”

 

5.                 
Cry.  Laugh. Sing. Draw a picture.  Write poetry, write in your journal, write emails and

letters.  Whatever form it may take, give expression to your feelings!

 

6.         Revise your goals to accommodate “detours” instead of beating yourself up and believing yourself a failure.

 

7.         Give new energy to language study, and use it as often as possible.  It is amazing what language success can do for you.

 

8.                 
Find times and places to get physical exercise and make it part of your daily routine.

 

9.         Confide to friends here in the U.S. that you are sad.  Their support will comfort you.

 

10.             
See yourself as a “tourist” and go in search of the beauty of the country. Experience

things “just for fun!”

 

            Be assured that, though it is stressful, culture shock will pass if you are willing to let the process of culture learning and cross-cultural adjustment take its natural course.

 

Reverse Culture Shock:

 

Practically speaking, reverse culture shock, or cultural re-entry, is a “cultural vertigo” because of the dizzy feeling people experience when returning from overseas to find that they no longer view their home culture in the same way that they did before they left.  The picture of home that you carried in your mind while you were away now seems out of focus and blurred.  Things to keep in mind:

 

1.         You’re not the same person upon returning; you have a new perspective on life and on your own country.

 

2.                 
It may be difficult to use your overseas experience and people may find it difficult

to relate to you. 

 

3.         You may feel that it is hard to “fit in” again.

 

4.         You need to be prepared for changes.  Try to keep abreast of changes in the environment and changes in the lives of friends and family while you are away.  Home is likely to feel, in many ways, like a new and different place.

 

Return Culture Shock Isn’t All Bad

 

Just as culture shock in a new environment is a sign of personal growth, of coming to terms in our own minds with new ways of seeing the world – stretching to incorporate new points of view and new insights – many of the uncomfortable feelings associated with return are also positive signs of personal growth.  They help us to expand our world as we discover that our awareness of other cultures has come to shape the way we look at our own culture.  When we return, we often find that we have learned to be more grateful and appreciative of the things we have.  We have often learned more about the value of living for others, as well as living for ourselves.  Realize how much you have learned, how strong you have become in taking on this new experience and all the many challenges you faced, and realize too that that strength will ultimately benefit you in your readjustment to your home country.

 

Coping Strategies for Re-Entry Shock

 

1.         Expect things to be different.

 

2.         Continue to write in your journal.

 

3.         Talk with others who have been overseas and have gone through reentry shock.

 

4.         Talk with a counselor or teacher/mentor (someone who can be supportive

and objective) to help you sort through your feelings.

 

5.         Cook a typical American meal for family or friends.

 

6.                 
Subscribe to newspapers or journals from the U.S.; or read U.S. news on

the Internet.

 

7.         Recognize and get to know people in your home community who are newcomers to your country.  Help them in their adjustment. 

 

8.         Take a course at the local university in international literature, politics, development, art, or perhaps the history or literature of the U.S.

 

9.         Review the stages of culture shock.  They are the same for cultural re-entry.  Knowing why you feel the way you do, and being able to label that feeling gives a sense of control over your situation.  As with all culture shock experiences, the prevailing sensation is a feeling of being “out of control.”

 

10.       Form or join a discussion group for those who have traveled abroad.

                                                                                                    

Most of all, realize that the growing pains of readjustment will subside and you will be left with a new balanced perspective on your own country and on the cultures and ways of life that you experienced in the U.S.

 

 

Vocabulary – Highlight 5 words from the reading that you are unfamiliar with.  Look them up using your learner English dictionary or vocabulary.com.  List them below, provide a definition in your own words, and copy a sentence using the word from vocabulary.com or dictionary.com

 

 

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