Culture Shock: What’s your experience?

Hi international teachers!

I am currently researching ‘culture shock’. This has been a term I have come across several times, usually at inductions at new schools. Currently, I am designing a course to support international teachers and I would love to unpick the term further, in our context.

Although is a lack of specific research linked to international teachers, there has been research based on the experiences of business people and longer-term migrants (which you could say, some of us are!) Originally culture shock is a term phrased by anthropologist Oberg, as “the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse” (1954). He discussed this as a ‘disease’ and whilst extra stages have been added to this model, the basics remain: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance phases. These four main stages of culture shock reflect Oberg’s, and are set out by Participate Learning (2016):

Honeymoon period

Although this may not ‘kick in’ for several months, this describes the period of when everything is fantastic in a new move: it seems like the best decision ever! You are in love with the language, culture and food. Your social media feeds are full of pictures attesting to this. As international teaching is a longer-term commitment (two years and beyond), it is likely that this phase will eventually come to an end.

Frustration period

If you are a frequent traveller you may have experienced this already in other countries. But living in the new country begins to lose its shine. Miscommunication and difficulty understanding a language and culture can breed frustration. Small things ‘that go wrong’ can feel very upsetting and you can feel that life becomes a struggle to do quite ordinary things. The frustration period can come and go. You can start to feel homesick and want to go home.

Adjustment period

At this stage teachers are more at ease with their life within a host country. They feel more familiar with their environment, the food, people, languages and cultures. They may have have established friends, a network and communities of support.

Acceptance period

Life may not be perfect, but the need to compare and contrast a host country with one’s own or prior placement is not necessary. A teacher is happy where they live and accept the differences.

But “acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are completely understood, rather it signifies realization that complete understanding isn’t necessary to function and thrive in the new surroundings. During the acceptance stage, travelers have the familiarity and are able to draw together the resources they need to feel at ease.” Participate Learning (2016)

So where are you with culture shock? Are you in a totally different phase or period?

I would love to hear your stories. Please post them here or through my Facebook group comments.

For myself, I feel I am hitting adjustment period. Slowly building up my networks and experiencing all that my host country has to offer. It’s not to say some days I hit frustration, especially when falling ill as I did so this weekend.

References:

Oberg, K (1954) Culture Shock, (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill)

Participate Learning (2016) The 4 Stages of Culture Shock. Available at https://link.medium.com/VtUSvBkwpvb Accessed (12th December 2022).

Photo by Christian Tagalog on Unsplash

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