Do I Have Culture Shock?

Posted On: October 30, 2015

Yes, culture shock is real. 

For those who have ever moved away from home to a new environment and experienced any of the following symptoms, it’s likely you faced culture shock: 

Social Symptoms

  • Feeling lonely most of the time (even when around others)
  • Over identifying or idealizing your native country or culture
  • Inability to accept anything in the new place
  • Using stereotypes to judge others
  • Social Withdrawal – Not feeling like doing anything
  • Homesickness
  • Becoming over identified or obsessed with the new culture (forgetting who you are)
  • Inability to want to learn new things
  • Inability to relate to or understand others or feeling no one relates to you
  • Finding it impossible to fit in
  • Generalizing that all problems happen in the new culture and none happened back home
  • Inability to feel comfortable in day to day life and daily tasks
  • Believing that by learning the new culture you are betraying your roots
  • Feeling disoriented or lost when traveling around.
  • Missing family and friends (to the point you don’t live life)
  • Not wanting to understand/ follow new behavior/rules/etiquette in your new culture
  • Prone to take drugs or drink excessively

Physical Symptoms

  • Sleeping too much
  • Not able to sleep enough (insomnia)
  • Falling physically sick frequently
  • Excessive concern health/ sanitary needs

Psychological or Emotional Symptoms

  • Feeling Sad


  • Mood Swings
  • Irritability
  • Losing touch with yourself
  • Closing up (not talking to others)
  • Lack of confidence and feeling insecure
  • Small problems become big worries (making a mountain out of a molehill)
  • Being too overcautious in everything/ over thinking
  • Not feeling safe and secure
  • Feeling foreign and different (misunderstood)
  • Taking everything too seriously. personally, or not taking anything seriously/ personally
  • Fighting with others
  • Impatience or unwillingness to try to understand the new surroundings
  • Crying
  • Imbalanced emotional state

Assessing Symptoms 
Note that not all of the symptoms may apply to you, and that is ok. In fact, the list above lists a wide variety of symptoms that can apply to various types of situations and people. The key is to note the intensity of the symptoms, this is called pervasivity. When something is pervasive, it impacts your normal functioning. With culture shock, it may take time to find a new baseline, a new normal.

Ask yourself the following about each symptom you identified with:
Is this symptom already a part of my behavior pattern?
(For instance, if you slept a lot ‘back home’ and continue to sleep a lot in your new home, how different is this for you? Are these traits comfortable for you, or do you want to change this?)

How has this symptom prevented you from living a comfortable life?
(For instance, it’s normal to miss friends and family, but is missing your family preventing you from making new friends or meeting new people? If so, consider the reasons and try to rectify them.)

How long has this symptom been a problem?

How pervasive has this symptom been? How does it affect overall day-to-day life? If this symptom were eliminated, how would my life be different?

Is Culture Shock Serious or a Passing Fancy? 

Culture Shock Curve

In the graph above, we see the culture adaptation curve, moving abroad and moving back home. While I believe culture shock can happen during any stage of this graph, it’s most common during the phases “culture shock (acute homesickness)” and “missing other cultures.” Interestingly, as I browsed the symptoms of depression as outlined in the DSM-IV psychiatric diagnostic manual and outlined here on the National Institute of Mental Health site, I found that many symptoms are mirrored. There is a connection between culture shock and depression. If caught in the early stages, culture shock can be managed by talking to friends and family honestly about your situation, or if that is not possible, talk to your professors, coworkers, international student advisor, counselor or cross-cultural life coach. However, if the symptoms persist, become pervasive (last a long time) and effect their day-to-day life immobilizing them you for months on end, it may be time to see a professional who provides help with depression, anxiety or other emotional concerns. For more information on the severity of culture shock on American campuses as faced by international students, click here.

Culture shock is serious and it is not a passing fancy. We all face transitions in our lives. During transitions any combination of symptoms can arise even when we don’t move abroad. Fitting in to a new school, moving away to college, changing jobs in the same town, getting married, retiring from the military, and other similar transitions all offer us to ‘change cultures’ on different levels. As long as we can overcome culture shock episodes by being true to ourselves and admitting we are facing culture shock and finding solutions, we will ride the waves and come out stronger than before.

Author of this post, Jennifer Kumar, provides training and coaching to international professionals working between cultures. Learn more about the US culture preparation program, which has helped over 3500 professionals prepare for their move to the US.

Related Posts: 

What E.T. can teach us about culture shock as humans 
Is it possible to become another nationality? 

Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted, provided it appears in its entirety with the following attribution (link included): Reprinted by permission of Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach at Authentic Journeys.

Caught Between Two Cultures, Asians Facing Culture Shock in America
National Institute of Mental Health
University of Leicester
Resources without links:
Dr. Carmen Guanipa @ San Diego State University, Symptoms, Stages and Solutions for culture shock – University of Iowa (Information removed), Suite 101, Voluteer Africa 



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