Experiencing situational culture shock
What happens to us when we first go into a new cultural setting? Sometimes just the place itself is challenging! Any relocation can mean changes in climate, food, or other factors. The early adjustments presented here might help you prepare.
External intercultural adjustments – First “culture shocks” (Summary)
In this article, the lead educator looks back on his initial challenges to adjusting to life in Asia. Obviously situations have changed since his first move to Asia in 1979, but many of these factors may still face sojourners as they move in and out of cultures around the world. This historical reflection might help you to consider how you might respond to similar changes of location and situation.
Climate and Conditions
One of his first challenges came from a climate change - a common problem for transitions anywhere.
It seemed that no matter where I went, I perspired. And trying to cool off in front of my small circular fan, I still felt hot and sweaty, even if I sat still.
Climate partly defines the differences between China’s northern and southern cultures (or sub-cultures). Any climate change can be uncomfortable. But our bodies are wonderfully adaptable – and usually after one seasonal cycle, we feel fairly adapted.
Another difficult adjustment came from the dense population of Asian cities – moving from being alone in nature with broad horizons to living in crammed urban centers with high skylines.
Everywhere I looked there were buildings obstructing my view and noises of people from those buildings disturbing my sense of peace. This was not peculiar to China – this was the “urban shock” that any country kid will feel in a metropolis….(Another) problem is that urban schedules also run at a faster pace, so it is hard to schedule get-away times.
Food and Hygiene
Adjusting to new tastes and smells is always a challenge for the traveler – it’s hard to adjust to flavors, eating practices (“good manners” are also culturally defined!), and our sense of “hygiene standards” or daily norms.
Though eating conditions have improved much, the style is still different from “back home.” Whenever you go overseas, you need to be prepared that both food and eating styles will require you to make adjustments.
My advice in any culture is that if you ever host someone from abroad, start out by going simple. You may think such choices are not fancy or unique enough, but your foreign guest will be grateful to have dishes he or she can recognize at the beginning, then slowly adjust.
Other sojourners would no doubt have their different list of initial challenges… Getting used to new things is a normal part of any transition. But that process of adapting is sometimes a stressful one that makes us confront our limitations, background, expectations, and sometime even biases or prejudices. So facing them with an open attitude helps us in each future adjustment.
What physical or situational challenges have you faced in past adjustments, or which do you anticipate to be more difficult?
Kulich, S. J. (2015). External Intercultural adjustments - My first “culture shocks” in Chinese contexts. Retrieved from the Shanghai International Studies University online Course. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/intercultural-communication
© Steve J. Kulich, Shanghai International Studies University