1. Kalvero Oberg was one of the first writers to identify five distinct stages of culture shock. He found that all human beings experience the same feelings when they travel to or live in a different country or culture. He found that culture shock is almost like a disease: it has a cause, symptoms, and a cure.
2. Whenever someone travels overseas they are like “a fish out of water.” Like the fish, they have been swimming in their own culture all their lives. A fish doesn’t know what water is. Likewise, we often do not think too much about the culture we are raised in. Our culture helps to shape our identity. Many of the cues of interpersonal communication (body language, words, facial expressions, tone of voice, idioms, slang) are different in different cultures. One of the reasons that we feel like a fish out of water when we enter a new culture, is that we do not know all of the cues that are used in the new culture.
Psychologists tell us that there are five distinct phases (or stages) of culture shock. It is important to understand that culture shock happens to all people who travel abroad, but some people have much stronger reactions than others.
4. During the first few days of a person’s stay in a new country, everything usually goes fairly smoothly. The newcomer is excited about being in a new place where there are new sights and sounds, new smells and tastes. The newcomer may have some problems, but usually accepts them as just part of the newness. They may find themselves staying in hotels or be with a homestay family that is excited to meet the foreign stranger. The newcomer may find that “the red carpet” has been rolled out and they may be taken to restaurants, movies and tours of the sights. The new acquaintances may want to take the newcomer out to many places and “show them off.” This first stage of culture shock is called the “honeymoon phase.”
5. Unfortunately, this honeymoon phase often comes to an end fairly soon. The newcomer has to deal with transportation problems (buses that don’t come on time), shopping problems (can’t buy favorite foods) or communication problems (just what does “Chill out, dude.” mean?). It may start to seem like people no longer care about your problems. They may help, but they don’t seem to understand your concern over what they see as small problems. You might even start to think that the people in the host country don’t like foreigners.
6.This may lead to the second stage of culture shock, known as the “rejection phase.” The newcomer may begin to feel aggressive and start to complain about the host culture/country. However, it is important to recognize that these feelings are real and can become serious. This phase is a kind of crisis in the ‘disease’ of culture shock. It is called the “rejection” phase because it is at this point that the newcomer starts to reject the host country, complaining about and noticing only the bad things that bother them. At this stage the newcomer either gets stronger and stays, or gets weaker and goes home (physically, or only mentally).
7. If you don’t survive stage two successfully, you may find yourself moving into stage three: the “regression phase.” The word “regression” means moving backward, and in this phase of culture shock, you spend much of your time speaking your own language, watching videos from your home country, eating food from home. You may also notice that you are moving around campus or around town with a group of students who speak your own language.