How Real is Culture Shock?

Posted On: April 8, 2014

Rather than point you in the direction of academics like Bruce La Brack, David Pollock, Ruth Van Reken, Lynne Mitchell or the reputed training programs given by the Peace Corps, I will try to answer the question “Is culture shock real?” based on my own experience and reading.Everyday people leave one place to go to another. We leave one job to go to another. We leave one school or college to attend another. We leave one city for another. We leave one country to settle in another.

In each of these examples, adjustments have to be made. Even if we move to a different college to continue the same program of study, or transfer to another city for the same job, or join another branch of the same club across town, we will come to learn things are done a little differently in our new place.

The ‘things that are done differently’ constitute the culture of that organization, school, company, club, community or country. When we have trouble adjusting to that new way of doing things- the new culture, we can experience culture shock.

Many may believe that culture shock doesn’t happen unless the differences are REALLY big, but that is a myth. It’s often the smallest, subtlest changes that take more time to understand, integrate and need to be practiced by us for success that cause the biggest ‘culture shock.

Often people may not think these situations are culture shock, but just everyday life changes. Maybe that’s true. Or, maybe it falls somewhere between day-to-day life changes and culture shock. Nonetheless, in these situations our thoughts, values, customs, social mores, traditions, assumptions about daily behavior and communication, dressing habits, and other daily behaviors that were once automatic suddenly become challenged, scrutinized and require a bit of adjustment or change to create success in new environment.

When we realize this is happening, when we feel ‘threatened’ or ‘encouraged’ to change to ‘fit in’ we then are confronted with culture shock. How do we deal with this and overcome it? Some face it head on, and others shy away and lock themselves in doors. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle. It’s because of this academics, cross-cultural experts, and even ordinary people who have undergone the process of cultural adjustment have identified and managed as soon as possible, they can cross-cultural coach; someone that is trained in the techniques of empathetic listening and problem solving with personal development resources and tools to cope with culture shock that help them get back on track to live their best life anywhere they are in the world.

Thank you for reading.Photo credit: Tedx Tartu


Author of this post, Jennifer Kumar, provides coaching and training to bridge the India- US culture gaps at work, at home, and in the community. Contact us to get started.

This article is the intellectual property of Authentic Journeys Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. Copyright © 2011, Updated 2014, Jennifer Kumar. All Rights Reserved. Do not reprint without permission. 

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