Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsWe are living in a society of high mobility. Crossing borders has become commonplace. Whether it is national borders, city borders, or even the invisible borders that could be felt when moving from one school to another, one community to another, we are very likely to experience varying degrees of stress, anxiety, and fatigue. This is often referred to as culture shock. Literally, it means the occupational disease of people who have been suddenly transplanted abroad. The key word, disease here, could be seen as a pun. It is both an ailment, with symptoms and cure, and also a feeling of uneasiness and disease.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 secondsThe symptoms of culture shock can be both physical, like too much eating, drinking, or sleeping, headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, and psychological, like depression, loneliness, anger, aggression, hatred, hostility, homesickness. While many people consider culture shock as a negative and even traumatic experience, we'd like to highlight the value of culture shock as a personal learning process. Culture shock is a common experience that many of us have to face when we are transplanted abroad, or in a new environment. It is an inevitable and natural process. We could look at a culture shock positively, as a personal learning process to learn about ourselves as a cultural being, and also learn about how culture governs our speech and behaviour.

Skip to 2 minutes and 2 secondsThis is the reason why many intercultural trainers take advantage of culture shock as a training method, to develop people's intercultural sensitivity and awareness. They even design simulation games, such as bafabafa and bonga to expose trainees to such experiences. Their rationale of this is that the more stress or shock one has experienced in intercultural adaptation, the more impression they may have about the process, and the more understanding they may develop about themselves, so that they may also show empathy for newcomers.

Explaining culture shock

Culture shock or stress comes from loss of familiar cues or unmet expectations. It is compared to a dis-ease with its own symptoms. We emphasize that this “shock” is a natural process and can be a valuable personal learning process.

In our societies of ever greater mobility, crossing borders has become commonplace. Whether it is national borders, city borders or even the invisible borders that could be felt when moving from one school to another, one community to the next, we’re very likely to experience varying degrees of stress, anxiety and fatigue. This is often referred to as culture shock, though acculturation stress may be a better term.

The root cause of culture shock comes from loss of familiar or expected cues. Due to the discomfort that this brings, many people see culture shock as a negative or even traumatic experience. It has been called a dis-ease (by Kalvero Oberg) with its own set of symptoms:

  • Psychological symptoms : loneliness, homesickness, frustration with self or hosts, depression, agitation, outbreaks of suppressed anger, aggression, moments hostility, hatred.
  • Physical symptoms : headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, unsettledness, seeking to suppress the bad feelings with too much eating, drinking and sleeping.

In this video, we highlight the value of culture shock as a personal learning process. It is an inevitable and natural process that many people have to go through when they are transplanted abroad or face unfamiliar cultural contexts at home. We think it helps to look at culture shock positively as a personal growth process that pushes us to learn about ourselves and see how culture can govern our speech and behavior, our expectations and responses.

Intercultural trainers generally view acculturation stress as a developmental process – that is, the more stress or shock one has experienced in intercultural adaptation, the more understanding one might gain about themselves as well as the more empathy one can cultivate and then show toward other newcomers.

Thus one of the best ways to develop these outcomes is to simulate culture shock experiences in training designs. Using simulation games like BAFA BAFA, Barnga, or other training procedures, trainees are exposed to potentially hidden cultural assumptions, reactions, as well as latent capabilities to cope with stress and be made ready to develop more intercultural sensitivity and awareness.

Reflect on any culture shock or stressful adaptation situations you have experienced. How did you respond at that time? What did you gain from going through it? Perhaps you want to share your stories with us or respond to those of other learners. We will ask you to formally do so in our discussion step this week.

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)