People range from country to country and bump into new cultures every day, but no one seems to know anything about the culture shock. What is it then?
I’ve never heard about anything like it before I left from Slovakia, but as a foreign student I can tell that this isn’t something what should be ignored. Only until I moved to Sweden for half a year, I was acquainted with Kalervo Oberg’s four phases of culture chock. Oberg easily describes why people often have problems to fit and engage with new surroundings. For me, Laura and many other people it wasn’t different.
The whole process begins with an individual who leaves the country of origin and moves to a completely different one. After a while, the honeymoon phase starts to appear. Everything is new and there is an excitement driven by curiosity. Unfortunately, all of it, usually lasts just for a couple of weeks.
Personally, I didn’t enjoy the honeymoon stage at all because I was so stressed out, I quickly jumped into the depression. Laura Pan, a 23 years old student of Film from Italy, however, enjoyed the challenge of being in a new country.
„I couldn’t speak English very well by that time, but I liked from the start the fact that people don’t care what are others wearing or if they’re showing their sexuality. In Italy it‘s still quite difficult to spot things like that,“ Laura said.
After some time, the culture shock comes in a full strength. This is called the disintegration or negotiation phase when an individual starts to be frustrated and confused. The feelings of discomfort, anxiety and exhaustion start to enslave a vulnerable person and create a negative view of the country and its culture. The individual might be unable to do anything, feel isolated and eventually become depressed. It usually lasts from six to twelve months.
For me, the negotiation phase was the hardest part of my life. I felt so desperate that I was crying my heart out all the time, I wanted to leave or even better, to disappear completely. Then, after 18 months when I heard about the culture shock for the first time, I finally realised what was happening to me and how can I work with it.
There are many reasons why people struggle abroad, but usually it’s because of the language barrier. For me and Laura, the anxiety started because of that reason too. As she says:
“The most difficult thing I was struggling with, was to be not able to communicate properly or to be misunderstood very often.”
Later, when the struggle is gone, the adjustment phase starts to appear. One realises that the previous moods were quite exaggerated and gains neutral attitude. There are still ups and downs of course, but an individual now understands why.
„It’s been a year now, but I‘m still feeling angry and lonely sometimes,” Laura added and then continued, “luckily, I’ve finally got to a point when I can say that I’m in an environment I like. The situation why I’m still angry sometimes is, for example, when I’m confronted with English culture where the politeness is fake and superficial.”
When it comes to this part, it’s interesting to see how foreign people sometimes proceed the politeness of English culture. I was having hard times with it as well and I was, for example, trying to avoid small talks because I didn’t see anything genuine behind them. Now, however, I started to enjoy the differences between the countries.
The acceptance of different culture and the full participation is a point when a person becomes bicultural. That’s the last step called the adaptation phase. It’s not easy to get to that point but it’s not impossible. As for me and Laura, we aren’t adapted fully yet.
Ultimately, the whole process of speaking and learning about culture shock may help to everyone as the everyday struggle can be replaced with a wave of understanding between the students and teachers or workers and employers. Taking part in fewer social activities or avoiding contact completely – all those signs can be cries for help. We have to think about the feelings of the others and try to help them at any cost. Believe me, because I know what I‘m saying. I was calling for help once too.