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Meaning and Definition

Culture shock is a phenomenon commonly felt by individuals who get to unfamiliar territories. Students who travel to foreign countries often experience culture shock and are unable to immediately adjust to the way of life in the new territory. However, this feeling is not just limited to students who travel to other countries but also affects those who move to institutions of learning in environments within their home countries. Generally, culture shock is the feeling of frustration that arises from the inability of an individual to adjust to an unfamiliarbusiness environment(Shannon-Baker, 2015). The failure to adapt to the new environment is associated with frustration as the individual strives to comprehend the culture around him. Foreign students, expatriate workers and other travelers often experience anxiety and anger due to their inability to adjust to the culture and conventions of the new territory. Such feelings are associated with the fear that they will never adapt to the new ways of life. Apart from the frustration of the inability to communicate in the local language, culture shock is often linked to a sense of loss due to the inability of the individual to comprehend the non-verbal cues (Gunn, 2017). Sometimes the cues are reversed and convey different messages compared to the ones the person is familiar with. In some instances, there is a conflict of values and the person feels that the values held dear have little significance in their new environment. Although this feeling is often short-lived and people get over it with time, some individuals experience fear that they will never get accustomed to the new situation.

Stages ofcultureShock

Different people experience culture shock in various manifestations but experts generally agree that there are four stages in the process of culture shock. The first stage is the honeymoon where an individual is excited about the new situation and are ready to embrace it as part of adventure. At this stage, individuals experience strong bonds with their home culture as they draw the points of difference between their own culture and the situation in the new environment (Schartner and Young, 2015). After the honeymoon stage, individuals move to the disenchantment stage where they realize that things are different as they struggle to catch up with the conventions of the new environment. In this regard, students are exposed to doubt and alienation and may get irritable towards the local people. An unexplained feeling of being in an unfamiliar territory overtakes a student and at this point, it is easy for one to fall into depression.

A student experiencing culture shock gets to the adjustment stage once they overcome the negative feelings associated with hostility against the new culture. At this stage they may adopt an attitude of humor towards the various points of difference between their culture and the host culture (Baba and Hosoda, 2014). When students realize that they cannot change aspects of the new culture and that some of their behaviors may be offensive to their hosts, they adopt a tolerant attitude and make specific adjustments. Fully adapted international ultimately reach the stage of biculturality where he demonstrates the ability to integrate into the new culture by adopting their system of norms. The student does not alienate his cultural mannerisms but can easily switch between the new culture and their own conventions with ease. Usually individuals at this stage can talk the language of the host and communicate in their own when the occasion calls.

Causes of Culture Shock

There are several causes of culture shock affecting people in unfamiliar territories. A prior understanding of these causes enables an individual to adequately prepare and minimize their effects as he adapts on a new environment. The first cause of culture shock is the unfamiliar practices and rules governing social interaction (Wu, Garza and Guzman, 2015). Such rules determine how people greet and their body language. A student may be confused if he comes from cultures where women do not shake hands and yet gets into a country where shaking of hands is the greeting norm. In addition, body language communicates different things to people from different cultures (Watson and Wolfel, 2015). Shaking the head sideways in the Indian culture, for instance, connotes agreement while the West interprets such a gesture as refusal. Students are thus expected to interpret the non-verbal cues associated with communication among different cultures accurately.Jack (2014) considersspoken language as part of the interaction norms that lead to culture shock especially when an individual is incapable in communicating in the dominant language. In some instances, people in the new territory may speak a different version of the same language and confuse a visitor with their accents. Students who come for studies in America, for example, get the culture shock regarding the differences in both the written and spoken English (Newsome and Cooper, 2016). Although people from the two countries speak English, the rules governing communication are markedly different in the U.S. and Britain.

The general environment in the new territory is also a major cause of culture shock. Dressing norms are different in various cultures and are either determined by the weather or the culture of a place. In this regard, students may be expected to dress in a style with which they are not familiar and they may feel alienated if they are the only ones displaying a different mode of dress.Rajasekar and Renand (2013) propose that the kind of food also causes culture shock in cases where the cooking and eating style is different from what the individual expects. In this regard, students coming from China to the Western countries have to adapt to eating with spoons folks and knives instead of the chop sticks. Such adjustments may be drastic for an individual and cause them to develop feelings of anxiety. Levels of noise are a major form of environmental factors that lead to culture shocks. The noise may arise from the loudness of interaction local students and staff or the general noise levels in the environment. In this regard, a student may be shocked by extremely quiet or extremely loud situations that cause him anxiety. In addition, the operation of common gadgets like fridges and water heaters could cause discomfiture among foreign students who may be familiar with other forms of operations of these tools.

The behavioral expectations of foreigners also cause culture shock among students. Such expectations stem from routine conventions like time keeping conventions.Gunn (2017) observes thatpeople have different value systems that define their time management skills (Mesidor and Sly (2016). In the Western world there is a general trend of sticking to appointment times because people associate time with money. In most Asian, on the other hand people value social interaction and may not be mindful of time when it is spent with family and friends. Based on this premise, such cultures may not have strict mannerisms about time. A student coming from these regions into a time conscious Western society therefore experiences some agony and must quickly adjust to keep appointment times. The adjustment capacity to culture shock depends upon aspects of individual psychology (Rajasekar and Renand, 2013). The demeanor of the local people towards foreigners is also a cause of culture shock. Students who come from countries where people are warm and helpful are often confronted by culture shock when they come into contact with a people that are impersonal and do not easily help foreigners. Time keeping mannerisms also affect the opening and closing times for banks, stores and other utility points. These factors confuse foreign students because they may have different expectations based on the conventions from their places of origin.

Effects of Culture Shock

Culture shock among students studying in foreign countries impedes cultural integration and this compromises their capacity to learn. When learners misinterpret the meaning of communication cues, they do not easily integrate in the society and as such, their speed of learning is diminished (Rajab, Rahman, Panatik and Mansor, 2014). The teachers in the respective countries may speak with an accent that the learners are not familiar with and result in a communication breakdown. According toSaylag (2014) students who fail to adequately integrate in their new environments are not able to form strong social bonds with their colleagues because of cultural and behavioral differences. In this regard, they may develop low self esteem which affects their confidence levels. Consequently, these students fail to meet the educational benchmarks.

Culture shock is associated with feelings of anxiety about the inability of an individual to function in his new environment. At the extreme, this phenomenon may result in stress and depression (Shieh, 2014). Some people are not able to transit from the frustration stage in cultural adjustment and as such they get into depression where they are not able to function in society. During such times, there is need for therapy to enable the individual appreciate that cultural change exists and empower them to overcome the negative energies.

Although culture shock is often associated with negative effects, this phenomenon can yield positive impacts when people adequately adjust. Culture shock can increase the student’s resilience and enable them to adjust to different cultures. In a new environment, the values and perspectives of the foreign student in life are often challenged and in this respect, he develops tolerance regarding the cultures and worldviews of others. The culture shock that involves a new language enables the student to make efforts to learn the language faster to enable them to function. A student who faces challenges with accents develops capacity to understand what their fellows communicate by learning the accents. Culture shock therefore enriches an international student’s experiences and enables him to blend with people from different cultures with ease. Students studying overseas must therefore embrace culture shock as an opportunity for personal enrichment.

Solutions of Culture Shock

Proper management of culture shock leads to positive outcomes especially among international students. In this regard, students must be prepared to experience a different culture and appreciate that it is a normal occurrence.Alves López and Portero (2013) opine that everyone who gets into a new environment including tourists and business persons experience some degree of culture shock and for this reason, student must not see their inability to adapt as a permanent situation. They should take the change positively and adapt to the new culture. Students must deliberately create friendship with their fellows from the local culture and learn much about the social mannerisms, their food, dressing and other aspect. Through such efforts, they will be able to understand the culture and enhance their adaptability.

Students should keep in touch with their home countries through the internet and the telephone.Marketing Communicationwith familiar people relieves one of stress. However, such communications should not act as a form of escape from the realities of the change of culture (Levine and Levine, 2014). Foreign students should engage in activities such as sports that will enhance closer interaction with the local community (Mustaffa and Ilias, 2013). There must be a deliberate effort to learn about the culture of the people including language dressing food and general mannerisms. When students learn about the culture of others, they gain an appreciation of the variety of culture and develop a liberal worldview. Learners in strange environments must develop resilience in confronting culture shock in order to enrich their cultural experiences and enhance their learning.

Research Gap

Various scholars have studied the effects and solutions of culture shock as experienced by the foreign student but limited information is available on the effects of culture shock by foreign students on the perception of local students about their culture. Students, regardless of their origin develop strong bonds and they are likely to change their perception about their culture based on the opinions of the foreign student. In this regard, further research needs to be conducted to establish the extent of change of perception of one’s culture based on the culture shock experiences by international students.


Culture shock is a phenomenon associated with anxiety that one experiences when they visit a new place. This feeling is common among people who travel but can be very pronounced among foreign students who travel to other countries for higher learning. If not managed well, depression can lead to depression and inhibit the capacity of students to learn. In addition, improper adjustment mechanisms can lead to tendencies of hatred towards other cultures especially when they conflict with ones value systems. However, culture shock should not lead to negative consequences among international students. This phenomenon provides an opportunity for individuals to learn about foreign cultures and develop a global worldview. Individuals must therefore develop an open mindset when joining new cultures and ensure that they utilize the opportunities it presents to learn a new language, experience different foods and eating styles and build a diverse social network of friends. Stakeholders in the education sector must be wary of the negative tendencies associated with culture shock and institute preventive measures. Culture shock should thus be considered as a positive phenomenon that allows an individual to appreciate cultural diversity.


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