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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 and 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.

Many people see culture shock as a negative or even traumatic experience. Kalvero Oberg called it a ‘dis’-ease, complete with its own set of symptoms:

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

In this video, we suggest that culture shock is actually valuable as a personal learning process. This inevitable and natural process that so many people must go through can push us to learn about ourselves and see how culture can govern our speech and behavior, our expectations and responses.

This is, in fact, the view of intercultural trainers—that is, the more stress or shock one has experienced in intercultural adaptation, the more self-understanding one might gain and the more empathy one can cultivate toward hosts and other newcomers.

One of the best ways to develop these outcomes is to simulate culture shock experiences in training designs. Games like BAFA BAFA and Barnga, expose potentially hidden cultural assumptions, reactions, as well as latent capabilities to cope with stress and 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)