Culture Shock

Culture Shock

Your stay abroad is going to be a mixture of exciting as well as difficult moments.  It is normal to have ups and downs while adjusting to the cultural differences of your new home. The feeling of anxiety is common as we lose familiar surroundings and have to learn new ways of communicating. Do not be afraid to make mistakes; this is all part of the learning process. Most seasoned travelers have a story or two to tell about a mishap or embarrassing situation. The most important thing is to maintain a positive attitude, remain flexible, and keep an open mind.

Subjectivity and Culture Shock

Not everyone will experience culture shock in the same way or to the same degree. This is a very individual process that you will need to work through in your own way.  Advice from past study abroad participants suggest that the best way to get through the difficult times is to recognize when you are feeling stressed, agitated, depressed, or excessively tired. Take a step back from the situation you are in and re-focus. For some, it is important to do something that they might expect to do at home when stressed such as exercise, write in a journal, spend time with a good friend, or do something else you enjoy.
While there are no set rules on how one adjusts to a new culture, there are some phases that individuals typically experience in cross-cultural adaptation. 

Pre-Departure Phase
Time:                                                          Pre-Departure 

General Attitude:                                       Anticipation

Events:                                                      Planning,packing, processing, partying,

Emotional Response:                                 Excitement, enthusiasm, 
                                                                   nervousness, anxiety, concern about 
                                                                   leaving loved ones, 
desire to leave

Physical Response:                                     Anticipation, loss of interest in current 

Verbal Response:                                        I can't wait to...

Honeymoon or Spectator Phase
Time:                                                          Weeks 1-4

General Attitude:                                       Exhilaration, euphoria, excitement

Events:                                                       Red carpet welcome, new 
                                                                   living en
vironment, new
exploration of sights 
                                                                   and shop

Emotional Response:                                  Tourist enthusiasm, sense of adventure

Behavioral Response:                                 Outward curiosity about host nationals,
                                                                   avoidance of negative stereotypes
                                                                   enthusiasm for studies and host 
passive observer of culture

Physical Response:                                     Intestinal disturbances, minor insomnia

Verbal Response:                                        How quaint, this place is so charming, 
                                                                   the people are so nice, this place and 
                                                                   the people are a lot like home.

Increasing Participation Phase
Time:                                                          Weeks 5-8

General Attitude:                                        Bewildered, 
                                                                    disenchantment, restlessness, 

Events:                                                       Classes, homework, everyday 
                                                                    life, responsibilities in 
unfamiliar food, 
                                                                    manners, language, 
customs, cost of 

Emotional Response:                                  Qualms, uncertainty, irritability, loss
enthusiasm, skepticism, 
questioning of values of 
                                                                    self and others

Behavioral Response:                                  Search for security in familiar 
increased alcohol and/or 
                                                                    food consumption, withdrawal

Physical Response:                                      Colds, headaches, tiredness

Verbal Response:                                        "Why do they do it like that?  Why 
                                                                    can't they just...?"                    

Crisis Phase
Time:                                                            Weeks 9-12

General Attitude:                                         Hostility, irritation, aggression

Events:                                                         Uneven work performance, 
                                                                     confrontation with differences   

Emotional Response:                                   Discouragement, lethargy, depression,
extreme sensitivity and 

Behavioral Response:                                   Withdrawal, avoiding contact
                                                                     with host 
nationals, excessive sleep, 
                                                                     fits of weeping, loss 
of concentration, 
                                                                     tension and conflict with others

Physical Response:                                       Minor illnesses, 
                                                                     headaches, preoccupation, and 
personal cleanliness

Verbal Response:                                         This place s___s!  I can't wait to 
                                                                     go home, use 
of stereotypes,
                                                                     chauvinism, nationalism, 
ethnocentrism.  "We" excludes host 

Adaptation Phase
Time:                                                            Weeks 13-20+  

General Attitude:                                          Recovery

Events:                                                         Work performance improves, able 
                                                                      to interpret 
cultural clues, can laugh
                                                                      at and tell jokes  
Emotional Response:                                    Sense of comfort with surroundings, 
                                                                      sense of 
belonging, sense of shared 
                                                                      fate, biculturalism

Behavioral Response:                                    Ability to see things from perspective 
                                                                      of host 
nationals, empathy 

Physical Response:                                        Normal health     

Verbal Response:                                          "Home" is homestay of dorm room. 
                                                                      "We" includes host nationals.

Reentry Phase
Time:                                                            Returning home

General Attitude:                                         Ambivalence

Events:                                                         Wanting to share stories
                                                                     about experience 
and finding 
                                                                     others generally not interested

Emotional Response:                                   Mixed-up, disconnected, 
                                                                     disoriented, irritability, 
                                                                     homesickness for overseas site, 
uncertainty about home

Behavioral Response:                                   Criticism about home and 
                                                                     friends, lethargy, keen 
interest in 
                                                                     foreign affairs and news

Physical Response:                                       Colds, headaches

Verbal Response:                                         "I never realized," or "In ___ we 
                                                                     used to..."

(Adapted from the Fulbright Newsletter, 1988)


Page last modified June 28, 2012