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Why culture shock is good for you

Updated 3 Dec 2015

What is culture shock? Culture shock is the impact of moving from a familiar culture to an unaccustomed one. Many travelers, particularly expats, experience it. Culture shock is very common, and symptoms vary from person to person. Factors that can cause culture shock include climate, language, food, values, dress and behaviour and no two cases are exactly the same. Work The World have produced an infographic looking at the ways in which experiencing it is entirely normal and unavoidable, and how culture shock is actually good for you.

A shock to the system

Generally speaking, there are 6 stages of culture shock that expats experience. The preliminary stage begins with preparing for the change and learning the etiquette and cultures you will be presented with. This is usually followed by euphoria on arrival, which can wear off, moving onto the next phase: irritability. This surfaces as you try to cope with simple aspects of life that can suddenly seem foreign. The next stage begins as gradual adjustments are made, with cultures becoming familiar and everyday life starts to fall into place, as you adapt to the new culture. The final stage is coming home. For some, this can have the biggest impact, as the realisation dawns that you have adapted to a new way of living. Old values still remain with you while new experiences change your approach and views on things.

Although these stages are very common, not everyone will go through every stage of culture shock and steps are often skipped. 

Broadening horizons

Although culture shock can feel uncomfortable for a period of time, it is vital for intellectual and social growth. According to a survey of 3,400 exchange students over 50 years, culture shock broadens horizons and helps to improve many aspects of life. This includes 96 percent of participants feeling an increase in confidence and 82 percent believing it helped to develop a well-rounded and sophisticated way of looking at the world. Other findings suggest that living in another culture stimulates maturity and helps people to better understand their own cultural values. 

Getting over the first stages of culture shock

Although the initial stages of culture shock can be rough for many, there are tips to help you cope with the symptoms, which include:

  • Cooking enjoyable home comforts.

  • Staying grounded and remembering that the feeling although bewildering, is normal.

  • Challenging yourself – stepping out of your comfort zone and surprising yourself.

  • Finding a guide to help you learn the language and culture.

  • Staying connected to friends and family.

Although culture shock can be daunting and off-putting, leaving your comfort zone can make you feel exposed and challenged - two things that are vital for personal growth and development. 

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