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Culture Shock Essay Sample

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Culture Shock Essay Sample

What is culture shock? Culture shock is primarily a set of emotional reactions to the loss of perceptual reinforcements from one’s own culture, to new cultural stimuli which have little or no meaning. (Adler, 1975) In layman’s terms, culture shock is the anxiety resulting from losing one’s sense of when to do what and how. (Pederson, 1988) There are many different ways to experience culture shock. It can be experienced across the world or as near as one’s backyard. Many Americans would venture that they consider themselves very culturally accepting. Often, when these same Americans travel abroad, they experience culture shock. It is not always a negative thing. Often it is just the shock of being in a place that is completely different in every way from anything one has ever known. Culture shock is a widely experienced phenomenon when people enter a different country.

Stephen Bochner in his chapter entitled “Culture Shock,” describes an interesting way of looking at Culture Shock. He describes the Push and Pull factors. The four Push factors being “the stressful aspects of the new environment.” The two Pull factors are what the “sojourner left behind back home.” The first Push factor is that operating in an unfamiliar environment is stressful and “hard work.” Secondly, it leads to feelings of helplessness as well as self-doubt. The role of an individual may be confused due to the new environment. Lastly, the more one learns about a different culture, the more apparent differences become. The different practices could disgust a person, and the person would feel “guilty” because they “failed to respect local customs.” The two Pull factors are loss of status and the ever-common homesickness. Bochner totally focuses on attitudes and feelings of the individual while another theorist, Adler (1975), feels that it is behaviorally based and Pederson (1988) feels differently yet.

Culture shock has an emotional core and produces a heightened emotional awareness of the new and unfamiliar surroundings whether as a sudden “shock” or as a gradual “fatigue” that occurs over a period of time. (Pederson, 1988) According to Adler (1975), culture shock has a series of behavioral stages. The stages do not always have smooth transition and take a different amount of time for each different individual. There is the initial contact, disintegration of the old familiar cues, reintegration of new cues, gradual autonomy and independence. Each stage is described according to the individual’s perceptions, emotional ranges, behaviors and interpretations of these. Contact is the initial contact with the other culture. This stage is marked by excitement of the experience and the individual is more attuned to similarities to their own culture than differences. Disintegration is a period of confusion and disorientation where the differences become increasingly noticeable as different behaviors, values, and attitudes are introduced.

The next stage is reintegration, which is characterized by a strong rejection of the new culture. This is the stage when visitors to a new and different country usually return home. It is when an individual wants to return to what they’re used to and know. Autonomy is when there is a rising sensitivity to the understanding of the new culture. The individual is relaxed and capable of understanding what happens around them. This stage is marked by the growth of personal flexibility and the development of appropriate coping skills. The last stage is independence. This is described as attitudes, emotionality, and behavior that are independent but not “undependent” of cultural influence. Basically this stage is when the individual reaches a self-actualized state of being in which they choose to explore the diversity of the world, while still maintaining their sense of self as a changing being. It is the capability of having preconceptions, assumptions, values, and attitudes challenged. Adler (1975) believes that culture shock has a behavioral core, meaning the behavior determines the stage of shock, while Pederson (1988) believes it has an emotional core, meaning the emotion experienced determines the level.

To speak of my own experiences, I have traveled abroad several times to different countries. Each time I left America, I was convinced that the culture in the country I was visiting would not be that much different. Every time I arrived, even so close to America in Canada, I was bombarded by a culture different than mine. Even within these individual countries there were different “sub-cultures” that were completely new to me. I spent a few months in Israel and just when I thought I had gotten used to the culture, something would happen that made me experience culture shock all over again. In Mexico, I had the experience of going to a tourist town called Cozumel. It was still a culture shock. In Mexico there is no drinking age so when my youth group and I, at age 14, were offered an interesting looking slurpee, we thought nothing of it. After drinking it, our director was appalled that we had taken liquor from a stranger. That was quite a clash of different cultural beliefs and a difficult one to explain to my parents! One specific example of cultural difference is the shuk, or Israeli marketplace. In America, when one goes to purchase an item, most times, no matter where one purchases it, it has a set market price.

In the shuk, there is no such thing as a set price. The vendors expect and want their customers to haggle with them and bargain the prices down. When I first tried to buy a necklace, the vendor got insulted because I wouldn’t haggle and refused to sell the necklace to me. Eventually I got the hang of haggling, but as soon as I got used to that, Israeli culture found other differences to swing my way. Towards the end of my most recent two-month stay, I feel reached a stage of autonomy in the model of culture shock suggested. As Adler (1975) says in his article, the greatest shock may be the encounter with one’s own cultural heritage and the degree to which one is a product of it. In other countries, I was appalled to find out just how “American” I am. There’s nothing wrong with that, it was just shocking to have something I had always taken for granted so blatantly pointed out!

In order to avoid culture shock, Richard W. Brislin in the textbook suggests cross-cultural training programs that emphasize the cultural differences between behaviors of two different cultures. It would provide skills and information regarding the culture so that the visitor knows what to expect with their new culture. The training is aimed at cognition and designed to change the way people think about differences between different societies. Communication, in-groups, and socially acceptable activities as well as socially unacceptable activities are all discussed and explained. Personally, as much as I think that would help limit culture shock, nothing short from going to the different cultures itself would eliminate it completely. A doctor can’t cure a patient with out ever seeing them; I don’t think culture shock can be prevented with out exposure.

In conclusion, culture shock is when familiar cues are removed and strange or unfamiliar cues are substituted, as might happen to a visitor in a foreign culture. (Pederson, 1988) I personally don’t see a problem with culture shock as long as it doesn’t result in something harmful to oneself or others. A result of learning about another culture abruptly through culture shock, according to Pederson (1988) is that the individual learns about his or her self, his or her own culture, and new identities in the different culture. The individual learns to grow towards multicultural perspectives and develop alternative futures for his or her self, thus making his or her self a more culturally accepting person.


Adler, Peter S. (1975). The transitional experience: an alternative view of culture shock. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 15, 13 – 23.

Bochner, Stephen. (1994). Culture Shock. Psychology and Culture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon

Brislin, Richard. (1994). Preparing to Live and Work Elsewhere. Psychology and Culture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon

Pederson, Paul. (1988). A Handbook for Developing Multicultural Awareness. Virginia: the American Association for Counseling and Development.

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