Moving abroad? No worries culture shock is not a disease



Some researchers preferred referring to culture shock with the terms of “culture fatigue” (Guthrie, 1975), “language shock” (Smalley, 1963) and “role shock” (Byrnes, 1966) (all cited in Pedersen 1995). From these definitions and early literature emerges a model where culture shock is considered to be a “disease” a specific pathology which generates temporary disabilities, but which might be possibly cured. Furnham (1988), criticised this kind of model after reviewing relevant literature and found eight flaws in this kind of approach. First of all, he argued that the grief-reaction previously described as an unavoidable reaction to culture shock does not always occur and it is not the main focus of the construct. Second, the concept of believing culture shock to be inevitable, does not take into consideration the different levels in which culture shock affects different people and therefore does not provide an explanation why some sojourners somehow do not experience it. Third, he disagreed with the view of culture shock explained as a process of natural survival which suggests that only the strongest individual is able to survive. Indeed, he argued that this kind of concept is simplistic and not supported by research. Fourth, Furnham (1988) argued that there is still no tested relationship between unfulfilled expectations, poor adjustment and culture shock experience and therefore it is not proven that culture shock derives from  sojourners’ distorted expectations. Fifth, the disease model blames culture shock for negative life events which disrupt daily life activities. Furnham (1988), believes that it is complex to measure life events and even impossible to establish causality. Sixth, he argues that the clash of values and conflicts considered the cause of culture shock, are not sufficient to explain this construct. Seventh, culture shock is blamed on a lack of social skills where inadequate or unskilled individuals have a hard time adapting. About this concept, Furnham (1988) argued that the role of personality and socialization is not investigated enough in the literature. Eighth, culture shock is blamed on lack of social support, however Furnham (1988) concludes by saying that is difficult to quantify social support and even more difficult is to create a model able to test this explanation. Despite recognising the negative aspects of culture shock, other researchers also criticised this kind of pessimistic approach and urged other researchers to focus on the potential that culture shock can bring to one’s self-development and growth (Alder 1975, 1987). As a matter of fact, Alder (1987) explains that culture shock, experienced by the individual when sojourning in a foreign country, increases the visitor’s cultural awareness and describes culture shock as an experience which helps the individual to better understand themselves as well as preparing the individual to undertake necessary changes (cited in Milstein 2005).


Beat culture shock (Adaptation stage and U-Curve Hypothesis)

Confidence is the best remedy

Confidence is the best remedy

If an individual manages to overcome the stage of rejection, the adaptation stage begins. This stage is described by Oberg as an achievement as the visitor starts to communicate using the host language and interacts more with the country hosts. At this point, the visitor perceives the daily challenges with less anxiety and is able to crack a joke over the difficulties experienced. Therefore, the adjustment stage has taken place and the visitor feels confident in dealing with daily life situations and embraces the hosts traditions and customs. Sometimes when going back home, the visitor misses the country he lived in, its people and its culture. Other researchers such as S.O. Lesser and H.W.S. Peter (1957, cited in Pedersen 1995), developed a three stage theory regarding culture shock, identifying the first stage as the spectator phase on arrival, the second stage as when the individual cannot stand any longer outside the host culture and needs to get involved and third stage when the individual learns how to cope with difficulties in daily life activity. More recent is the cultural shock stage theory developed by I. Torbion (1982, cited in Pedersen 1995) where he describes the first stage as the tourist phase, the second stage as the culture shock phase, the third stage as the conformist phase and fourth stage as the assimilation phase. Although there are variations in the stages described, culture shock stage theories are largely shared among those writing about this construct. This succession of stages has been referred to a U-curve where the process of adjustment moves from a higher level towards a lower level to then return to a higher level when the ability to cope with the new culture increases. S. Lysgaard (1955) was the first to develop the U-curve hypothesis describing the adjustment process of international students sojourning in a foreign country (cited in Pedersen 1995). This initial curve was then modified into a W-curve by J.T. Gullahorn and J.E. Gullahorn (1963) who pointed out how the adjustment process taking place when back home, resembled the initial adjustment in the host country taking the name of reverse cultural shock (cited in Pedersen 1995). In support of the U-curve hypothesis are eleven empirical studies. However, the results of these studies, support only the general hypothesis but do not prove that a level of full adjustment, comparable to the one the individual experienced back home, can be achieved. 

Read the introduction to this article here

Easy your culture shock learn the host language

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Afraid of the unknown? Beat Culture Shock (Intro)

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. 


Learning the language really helps!