Chapter Nine Lecture Idea 2: Culture Shock Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from a person’s losing all of her familiar signs and symbols of social interaction. When a person enters a strange culture, familiar cues are removed. Without these unwritten rules regarding appropriate behavior, people may experience frustration and anxiety. Studies show that predictable stages occur when people enter a new culture, country, or environment. The length and intensity of each stage varies from person to person. The following steps are involved:
Honeymoon phase—The person is fascinated by and eager to explore the new environment. Sometimes the honeymoon lasts for such a long time that an outsider might assume that the person has already passed through the other stages and considers the new culture home. When the person finally moves into the next phase, her behavior can come as a surprise to those who have made this assumption. Thoughts such as “I don’t know who I am anymore” or “ I think I made a mistake by making this choice” are indications that someone is leaving the honeymoon stage of cultural adjustment.
Hostility stage—This phase is characterized by a hostile and aggressive attitude toward the host culture or country. The person new to the environment realizes the differences between the two cultures and longs for something familiar. She finds fault with many things in this culture. This is often the stage during which stereotypes, such as “the dollar-grabbing American,” “lazy Mexicans,” or “that college doesn’t care about students,” are formed the person in this stage may try to escape from the uncomfortable environment.
These efforts could include dropping out of school, taking drugs, drinking, attempting suicide, and so on. People who are conscious of their choice to be in the new environment will find it easier to cope during this stage. However, refugees often feel trapped and have difficulty moving beyond hostility. Humor phase—In this phase, the person begins to see humor in the difficulties she is having rather than criticizing others for them.
A person in this stage is on the road to recovery. At home phase—When the visitor embraces the customs of the new culture, the “at home” phase has been reached. Anxiety disappears. She accepts and begins to enjoy many of the new culture’s foods, drinks, habits, and customs. If a person leaves the culture at this stage, she misses the environment. When a cultural adventurist returns to her native environment, she goes through a reentry process that follows the same curve.
She is excited to be home, feels some hostility when it is not the same as she remembers it, sees humor in the differences between the two cultures, and eventually again feels at home in her original culture. International students are expected to go through culture shock. Most college freshmen also experience it. Prime candidates for intense culture shock are first-generation college students, students who performed well in high school with little effort, and students who have moved from a large city to a small college town or vice versa.
When the college environment is quite different from the original home environment, traveling through the curve may take longer. Understanding the process of cultural adjustment can reduce the anxiety associated with it. When students know that these stages are a normal part of adjusting to a new culture, they may be able to pass through them with less struggle. A role model (someone who has successfully become a part of a new culture) can be especially effective in easing this transition.