Culture Shock

Culture shock is the disorientation an individual may feel when experiencing an unknown way of life while in a foreign country.

It is neither weird nor uncommon. It is an essential process of adaptation we all have to go through when engaging ourselves in another culture and environment. But not everyone experiences and goes through a culture shock. It depends on our previous experiences, knowledge, self-confidence, attitude, etc. Learning about this phenomenon does not mean that we are trying to avoid it, but it is an important part of the inevitable process of adaptation.


The four phases of culture shock:

These are the most common stages of culture shock that most people go through when they are in a foreign country and experience an unfamiliar culture.

1. Honeymoon

During this period, everything seems interesting and exciting and is often viewed in a romantic light. For example, a person might love the new food and the habits of the locals. They may be fascinated by the new culture, looking forward to new experiences, and overwhelmed by new impressions. But still, this phase eventually comes to an end.

2. Negotiation

After some time, an individual notices the differences of the new culture compared to their own, which may create anxiety. Suddenly, we experience frustration and anger due to language barriers, traffic safety, food quality, certain behaviors and characteristics of the locals, etc. Then, our mood and comfort deteriorates, as we feel disconnected from the environment. In this phase, the most important change is communication. People who are not used to the new environment often feel homesick or lonely.

3. Adjustment

The acknowledgment of culture shock as a normal part in the process of adaptation to a new environment, and culture may help to deal with negative emotions in a better way. It is essential to know that it is not a personal problem but rather a regular process. After some time, a person becomes accustomed to the new environment and culture, and develops routines. Then, things become more normal, and a person starts accepting the culture’s ways more positively, reducing the negative reactions to the culture.

4. Adaptation

In this phase, we develop an understanding and appreciation and even start to partake completely in that culture. However, people often keep some traits from their prior culture, for example, accents and languages, and this is often referred to as the bicultural stage.

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Culture Shock in China

When starting an internship in China, you will need the help of someone already in the country,
whether they’re your relatives, friends, or your internship provider. Having someone
in China who can help you with any problem you might encounter is essential. Not only does it reduce stress, but also it saves you a lot of time. Here are some things you should know and what to expect in order to better deal with the culture shock:

Greeting in China:

Usually, people say ni hao, which means hi. But if they want to show more respect, they use nin hao. Chinese people do not usually shake hands, but if they do, it is because they want to show respect and understanding of the other culture.

Language Barrier in China:

You should know that many Chinese do not speak enough English for you to understand them or get your point across. Most taxi drivers, waiters, shop clerks, etc. do not speak English, so ensure that the taxi driver knows your destination before you get into the car or your waiter knows exactly what you ordered. It is a good idea to learn the basics and useful expressions in Chinese. But even if you can only say a few words, the Chinese will appreciate your attempt to overcome the language barrier.

Staring and Pointing (Curiosity):

If you have pale skin, blonde eyes, or blonde hair, you may get a lot of attention when in public. People may stare or point at you, but it is not meant in a bad way. It is just curiosity.

Chinese Food and Cuisine:

It is different to the food that you have in Chinese restaurants at home. However, when experiencing local restaurants and cuisines, you may encounter some differences that could be a bit of a culture shock. There is the communal style of dining, where several dishes are commonly shared between the guests. This is called lazy Susan, and is very common in Chinese restaurants. Also, in the Chinese dinner, the soup comes last instead of first. But still, one of the best things in China is the great variety of food. Chinese cuisine is so complex that it is nearly impossible to sample it all.

Personal Space and Privacy:

Personal space in China is a luxury. There will be crowds that you will not expect due to the large population. You will encounter moments where your personal space does not exist. For example, when taking the subway or when in an elevator, people will often squeeze into the space, which may make you feel uncomfortable, but do not worry. It is nothing personal nor uncommon.

Tips for coping with Cultural Shock

– Try new things of the other culture to overcome inhibitions, for example, local clothes, food, etc.
– Be patient and try to become more acquainted with other people.
– Even if you only know a few words, try to learn the foreign language. It will be appreciated by the local people.
– Pay attention to the body language and behavior of the local people.
– Be positive. Remember that the process of adapting to a new culture is regular and everyone has to go through it.
– Set your goals for your stay. Also, point out the advantages for your career and personal development and how much it expands your horizon.
– Regardless of the possibility of not fully understanding the foreign traditions, try to respect them.
– Try to keep in contact with your family, friends, and colleagues at home. Sharing your emotions and experiences may help to reduce stress.
– Take part in local activities. You can meet new people and understand their traditions and culture. If you have any hobbies, try to practice them with the locals.

What Is Reverse Culture Shock?

It may occur on your return home, after being accustomed to the new culture, and can create the same effects as mentioned above. During your stay abroad, you have adapted to the new culture and environment, and some may find it more difficult to deal with than the original culture shock. It has two phases: idealization and expectations. When being abroad, we focus on the good things from our past, creating an idealized version of it. Then, upon arriving back home, we expect that nothing has changed and that everything has remained the same as when we left. But we may realize that everything back home is different, and the process of readjusting can cause distress and mental anguish.