In contrast to the majority of early and some recent literature which see culture shock as a negative construct, a positive view is offered by Juffer (1987) who considers culture shock to be caused by a “growth experience” in which change and transition are synonym of potential growth and personal development (cited in Pedersen 2005). Most of the recent literature tends to support this positive assumption. As a matter of fact, Furnham and Bochner (1986) state: “The implication is that although it may be strange and possibly difficult, sojourning makes a person more adaptable, flexible and insightful”(p.47).
In addition, recent empirical research about growth the potential of the sojourn demonstrate that although the visitor faces difficulties to adapt to the new environment, there is also an increase in awareness and understanding of oneself (Kauffmann et al., 1992 cited in Pedersen 1995), in the interest towards cross-culture issues, and a more critical attitude toward one’s culture (Carlson & Widaman, 1988, cited in Pedersen 1995). Kim (2001), asserts that the difficulties faced when experiencing culture shock lead the individual to make a greater effort in changing their old ways to carry out daily activities, achieving a better quality of life in the new environment.
Gudykunst and Kim (1984) identified the stress related to the initial culture shock a characteristic of the intercultural transformation theory, according to which an individual goes through a stress-adaptation-growth dynamic which over time becomes cyclic and continual. This initial stress the individual faces living in the new culture, which is named in the literature as acculturative stress, is believed to be not necessarily unconstructive and might in fact lead to positive results. After all, the acculturation process is a step towards assimilation as the individual makes a great effort to change their cultural patterns in order to make them suitable to the new environment.
Culture Shock is a normal phenomenon occuring to everyone experiencing a new culture, understanding its various stages helps you to develop a positive outcome from your experience abroad. Don’t panick!
In a world where travelling, migrating and studying in another country is a wide spread phenomenon, culture shock has become a construct of crucial importance. It will be argued that culture shock, previously given negative connotations and affiliated with negative outcomes, has in fact over the years achieved a positive outlook and might actually enhance communication self-efficacy in sojourners. In order to understand what culture shock is, firstly it is useful to look into what culture represents. Culture is a way of life, a product of history, customs and traditions that one acquires by living in a specific environment (Oberg 1960). To say it with Geertz’s (1973,5) words, culture is “believing… that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs”. An individual is not born with culture and will have to learn all the signs, cues, language, customs and traditions which knit it. Once they learn, culture becomes an automatic “skill” which allows them to obtain what they want from that specific environment. Most of the times people regard their own culture as the best culture and believe their way to do things is the right way. This attitude is named ethnocentrism; a belief, that not only the culture but also the race and country are at the centre of the universe. When individuals are suddenly transplanted into a new culture they face a general state of uncertainty as they do not know what is expected from them or what to expect from the new environment. This is when culture shock takes place.