What is your most memorable cultural shock

Culture shock while studying abroad

You get on the plane euphoric and full of expectations, with the good feeling: Now the adventure of studying abroad is finally starting. When you arrive in the host country, everything initially seems very exciting, you are curious and feel that everything you have experienced is enriching, everything seems very easy.

After a while, however, one or the other difficulty arises, it comes to pass Misunderstandings with the locals, the processes at the host university are inscrutable and the language barriers are bigger than expected. The mood changes, the euphoria has evaporated: the food here doesn't taste good and causes digestive problems, the people in the host country all seem somehow repellent and behave strangely. You would like to go back home immediately, because everything is much better there anyway. Diagnosis: culture shock.

In the following you will learn what this phenomenon is all about and how you can tell that you are experiencing a culture shock while studying abroad. We'll also give you a few helpful tips on how to best yourselves prepared for a possible culture shock while studying abroadto alleviate symptoms if necessary.

Culture shock: an overview

Whether a semester abroad or a complete Bachelor, Master or Ph.D. degree, whether studying in North America, Europe or Asia - a culture shock while studying abroad can affect anyone! Culture shock is a scientifically recognized phenomenon and has nothing to do with “weakness”. On the contrary: some are of the opinion that without a culture shock, one would not have really experienced the foreign culture in the first place.

Especially in countries and regions that come from one's own culture and where one assumes small differences in relation to one's own culture, the culture shock can be even greater because one did not anticipate possible difficulties. The apparently familiar culture is not so familiar after all. Conversely, the culture shock in Asian countries can turn out to be less intense than perhaps expected, because one expects great cultural differences from the outset and has already prepared a lot more internally for them.

The different phases of a culture shock

Even if the term "culture shock" suggests that it was a short but very violent shock experience, so it is actually a processthat lasts for several weeks and runs in a U-curve.

The anthropologist Karlevo Oberg has the culture shock in one ideal-typical four-phase model which has been modified variously. Jürgen Bolten, professor for intercultural business communication, has added another phase (misunderstandings) to the model.

The The intensity and duration of the individual phases depend on very different factors. It can also be the case, for example, that the first phase is “skipped”, so to speak, and you are already in the middle of the “critical phase” when you have hardly arrived in the study country.

The culture shock takes place in the following phases:

1. Euphoria ("honeymoon stage")

© Maridav / Shutterstock.com

In the beginning like tourists in love: In the honeymoon phase you are still far from a culture shock.

In this phase you see the host country and the other culture through the proverbial pink glasses. You are still tourists and have a very selective perception of your surroundings: You see above all what you want to see and what you also expected to a certain extent. Everything appears new, exciting and exotic; the images and impressions that you collect are filtered through a soft focus, so to speak.

2. Misunderstandings

In this phase there are more and more situations that do not want to fit your image that you have made of the other culture and that irritate you accordingly. Life in the other culture holds surprisingly many "stumbling blocks", culture bumps, ready: Again and again you collide with the other culture and gets to feel “cultural differences”. You are confronted with a completely different “way of life”, with different values, different political, social or economic attitudes.

your do not find your way around this foreign "set of rules", has not yet mastered the language well enough and is constantly making faux pas. This creates misunderstandings for which you mostly blame yourself. So you are not only confronted with a different culture, but above all with yourself. You now question a lot of things that previously seemed natural, simple rain of behavior and courtesy. Added to this are the unfamiliar surroundings (house facades or the design of the shops), a completely different climate and unfamiliar daily routines. In short: Everything that you were familiar with and that you could use for orientation is no longer available to you and everything appears uncertain, even unpredictable. The initial euphoria turns into frustration and before you become aware of it, you get into an emotional crisis.

3. Collisions ("crisis")

The collision, the crisis, is the real culture shock. You do not recognize the deeper causes of the misunderstandings, you feel strange, unwelcome and misunderstood and you get into a kind Identity crisis. You feel powerless and meaningless, have constant feeling of being outside and feeling isolated and rejected. Of course, these feelings gnaw at your self-esteem and you increasingly feel the need to distance yourself from the “foreign” culture. Without really being aware of it you constantly compare the host culture with your own culture, with the host culture consistently "performing" worse. Because you only see negative things about her, for example a high crime rate, different hygiene standards or the gap between rich and poor, you start to reject her more and more. You feel lonely and are terribly homesick.

The culture shock and the associated identity crisis can lead to study difficulties and even depression. It is not uncommon for the study abroad to be broken off due to a culture shock. The students are not aware that they are currently experiencing a culture shock that - once it has been recognized as such - can also be overcome.

How long the crisis lasts and how intense it is experienced depends on various factors, but above all on personal factors. Basically: The more aware you are of the structure and the typical effects of a culture shock, the faster you will be able to overcome the crisis and move on to the next phase.

4. Acceptance of the differences ("recovery")

In this phase you understood that you are yourselves deal with the new situation you have to and have realized that you approached your study abroad with too high expectations. You try to understand the other culture better, compromise and accepts the cultural differences. You no longer have the need to interpret and evaluate everything immediately. You realized that your perception is strongly influenced by your own culture and realized that it is of little help to transfer your understanding of normality and meaningfulness to the other culture.

You succeed the reflect on your own behavior and to endure apparent contradictions in the behavior of others. Intercultural communication is now much easier for you, you recognizes the causes of misunderstandings and be able to do it over Metacommunication to enlighten. You understand the rules of interaction and communication and adapt to them. However, your perception, ways of thinking and behaving are still shaped by your own culture.

5. Acculturation ("adjustment")

Ideally, you will reach the phase of acculturation during a longer period of study abroad. You not only accept and understand the mindsets and behaviors of the host culture, but you even begin to partially use them to perceive as belonging to you, as something of your own. your have you guys successfully integrated and much of what seemed strange and completely alien to you at the beginning has become commonplace and a matter of course for you. So you feel "at home". However, that does not mean that you have broken away from your original culture, it just has a much smaller impact on you than it did before.

Symptoms of culture shock

© Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock.com

The symptoms of culture shock are many and varied - severe homesickness is just one of them.

Even if you have dealt with the topic of culture shock before studying abroad and have prepared for it, it can happen that you don't even notice that you are experiencing one. Especially when it is less intense and “only” expresses itself through latent dissatisfaction and a negative mood. To however getting the most out of studying abroad and not spoil yourself with lasting negative feelings, it is important to recognize culture shock. The Culture shock manifests itself in very different ways, is not the same for everyone, it is also experienced as having very different intensities and not all symptoms necessarily occur. Incidentally, you can experience a culture shock with each new stay abroad again and again and in different forms.

  • The need to withdraw
  • Feeling rejected by others
  • Strong homesickness and the need to telephon / skype with parents and friends as often as possible
  • Feeling of isolation and loneliness
  • Fearfulness and distrust
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Physical symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, sweating, sudden allergies, or high blood pressure
  • The host country is constantly compared with the home country and rated negatively up to the point of hostility and total rejection

Culture shock in studying abroad - handling and tips

A culture shock cannot be prevented and it often catches you when you least expect it. Basically: Proper preparation is essential! Deal with the phenomenon of culture shock and, above all, make yourself familiar with the cultural standards of your country of study, such as Time management, communication style or rules of conduct but also with the study and education system. Many German universities offer their students the option of taking part in so-called intercultural training courses before studying abroad. Anyone who has this opportunity should take advantage of it.

Above all, make yourself aware of the valuable opportunities studying abroad offers you and that a culture shock is something that is completely normal for you grow personally can. It is important to overcome the low point as quickly as possible. Because if you only study abroad for a quarter or a semester, you have little time to adapt and risk leaving in the middle of the collision phase and in the end bringing home only negative feelings and frustrations. The following tips should help to overcome the crisis as successfully as possible.

Look for contacts with locals and improve your language level

© Stephani Elizabeth / Shutterstock.com

An important step towards acculturation: Respect and learn to love cultural peculiarities!

When you're in culture shock, you tend to withdraw. Or maybe you are only looking for contact with people who have a similar cultural background to yours in order to feel less foreign. But those who spend their studies abroad exclusively with other international students, or even only with other German-speaking students, will remain alien to the host culture. Those who withdraw and isolate themselves miss the great opportunity to acquire intercultural skills while studying abroad. In addition, the Mastery of the foreign language is an important aspectto feel at home in the study country. Only those who communicate a lot with locals can learn the foreign language or further improve their language level.

Studying abroad offers many opportunities to socialize with the local students. It is of course best to live in a shared apartment with locals or with a host family, because this is where they are Particularly intense interaction. However, the universities usually also offer a large number of events that promote socializing and integration. Take part in activities that are typical of the country, join a student or sports club and continue to pursue your hobbies.

Observe and not judge

It is of course completely normal to compare your country of study with your home country while studying abroad. But in the end it comes down to how “objective” these comparisons can be. Because one should be aware that two different cultures cannot actually be compared with one another, because it there is no common yardstick. During a culture shock, there is an exaggerated tendency to evaluate the cultural phenomena of the host country without realizing that one is ethnocentric view have on it. This means that you evaluate the other culture against the norms of your own culture. Your own culture appears to be superior and deviations are perceived as a “lack”.

You should, however try to take a polycentric view and to be open to and respect other cultures, ways of life and ways of thinking. Each culture is unique in itself and independent and your own culture is not the measure of all things. Instead of immediately categorizing everything into familiar categories, it is helpful to wait and see the new culture and yourself.

Be curious, open and flexible

Even if you have experienced setbacks and disappointments: Closing yourself off from the other culture and losing interest in it is more than counterproductive and will not help you to overcome the crisis. Try local specialties, tries out new things and signals genuine interest to the locals. Every new intercultural communication also offers a new opportunity that you should use to break down prejudices. Despite negative experiences, you should avoid leaning against all members of the host culture. "The" Chinese or "the" Americans do not exist. Every person is unique and also shaped by their own culture in very different ways. After all, you too do not want to be reduced to stereotypes and prejudices.

Keep in touch with parents and friends at home

Anyone who is currently in a crisis naturally longs for the familiar and is terribly homesick. Parents and friends offer comfort and emotional support on bad days. But there is little point in constantly skyping or talking on the phone with loved ones who stayed at home. Because when you hang up again, the homesickness is often all the greater. The "escape to the front" will certainly be more effectivewhen it comes to fighting the longing for home. Go outside, meet fellow students, or go to your favorite vantage point that you discovered during the honeymoon phase.

Be patient

The Getting used to a new culture doesn't happen overnight. Remain patient and allow yourself breaks in between to reflect on what you have experienced. Frustration and a bad mood are quite normal and should be allowed too. Nobody expects you to be able to speak perfect American English or read the hundred most important Chinese characters in a short time. And building new friendships also takes time.

Know yourself

Only whom aware of their own cultural standards is also able to distance oneself from them and to get involved with the new culture. And only those who recognize, for example, that few cultures communicate as directly as the German one, understands why the intercultural interaction partner suddenly reacted hurt after a well-intentioned tip and can do it differently the next time.

Back home: Re-entry shock

You can also experience a culture shock when you return home after studying abroad. This is known as Re-entry shock, Reverse culture shock or as Culture shock. The Symptoms are similar to those of a foreign culture shock: You have adapted to the culture of the country you are studying and maybe even internalized some of it. When you return, your own culture suddenly appears alien to you.

Also high expectations are associated with returning homewho may be disappointed. After all, you have experienced a lot that you want to share with those who stayed at home.You do not always meet with understanding and some are even not even interested in your experiences. Suddenly you notice aspects of your own culture that you find negative: The people in Germany are rude, Germany is an elbow society, it's always about performance and results. Anyone who has spent time abroad and lived in and experienced a different culture has changed personally. The intercultural experiences and the eventual experience of a culture shock while studying abroad have shaped you.

Just as you had to get used to the cultural conditions of the host country, so you have to get used to the cultural peculiarities of your home country again. These feelings of foreignness towards one's own are also an important aspect of intercultural learning: You take a critical distance from your own culture and realign your relationship to it. You understand that one's own culture is neither “better” nor “worse” than other cultures. Seen in this way it is Reverse culture shock equally helpful to get rid of an ethnocentric view of other cultures.


Positive effects of a culture shock when studying abroad

Of course, experiencing a culture shock while studying abroad is uncomfortable. After all, the anticipation was great and now you are in the longed-for study country of your choice and really just want to go home. But that Experiencing and coping with a culture shock gives you the opportunity to mature personally. After all, those who overcome the crisis and begin to accept and respect cultural differences and learn to actively adapt to another culture acquire important intercultural skills. And after all, this is also a major reason for most students to study abroad. During a culture shock, one is in a sense forced to deal more intensively with the other culture and, above all, with one's own culture. It will an intercultural learning process set in motionfrom which you benefit in the long term.