Nowadays, international travel has become commonplace. Many people visit other countries on vacation, for mission trips, as exchange students, or in a study abroad program. Students attend universities around the world in search of new adventures and to experience personal growth. While planning for all the formal aspects of such trips like finances, documents, transportation, accommodation, etc., they sometimes miss out on preparing for one important thing – how to cope with culture shock.
Culture shock is defined as a feeling of anxiety, discomfort, or confusion that occurs when someone is suddenly immersed in an unfamiliar culture or way of life. A Canadian anthropologist named Kalervo Oberg first introduced the term in 1954 to describe the disorientation that takes place while visiting a country with different traditions, customs, climate, food, and language.
The intensity with which a person experiences culture shock depends on a lot of factors, and certain people adjust better than others. For some, the new culture may be a bit surprising; for others, it may be overwhelming. Positive and negative feelings often take turns and make one feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Culture shock is exacerbated by poor sleep quality, isolation, and lack of family or friends. This can lead to mental stress, physical aches, homesickness, and depression.
Whether it’s unusual foods (are these cooked crickets???), getting lost in a strange city (where’s my map?), or having trouble communicating (where’s my phrase book?), culture shock can prove jarring. But those who study the culture, language, and people of their host country in advance will be less shocked by the social customs, religion, language or food. They will know what to expect and may even look forward to experiencing the cultural differences.
From the infographic below, you’ll learn about the main types of culture shock, its different stages, typical symptoms, and tips to overcome it – whether you are an international student or anyone else traveling to a new country for the first time.