Culture Shock Coping Strategies

Instructor: Emily Cummins
Traveling to a different country can be exciting and rewarding. But we can also experience culture shock, or a feeling of disorientation in a new place. In this lesson, we'll talk about some coping skills for culture shock.

Encountering Other Cultures

Traveling to other countries can be a great experience. It gives us the opportunity to see unique customs and traditions, try new foods, and speak a different language. We get the opportunity to see natural wonders we might not otherwise see. Traveling to a place far from home allows us to have experiences we might never have at home. It can open new personal and intellectual horizons. But sometimes we can feel lonely or homesick when we're abroad. In this lesson, we'll talk about culture shock and what we can do if we experience it.

Culture Shock

Culture shock is a feeling of loneliness, homesickness, or disorientation we experience when we travel to a place that is unfamiliar to us. The term was actually coined by an anthropologist by the name of Kalervo Oberg, who defined it as a feeling of anxiety upon being in a different place. The primary method of cultural anthropology is ethnographic fieldwork, which is an approach that requires anthropologists to embed themselves within the community they are studying for an extended period of time. So you can see how an anthropologist might have been the one to coin this term! Oberg found it disorienting when all of our normal cues are removed, meaning things like hand gestures and street signs all become unfamiliar. We have a hard time navigating day-to-day life.

When we're experiencing culture shock, we might become obsessed with things like the cleanliness of the food or water in our new place. Sometimes, we complain about the weather in the new country and dwell on how much better we think our own culture is. This can cause us to have negative feelings towards the local people.

Culture shock could cause us to feel depressed and spend our time inside instead of exploring. We might feel the urge to leave and not come back. Being in a place where you don't speak the language can feel stressful or disorienting. Sometimes, if the food is very different to us, we might feel stressed. For example, in some cultures, it is customary to eat the meat of dogs and cats, while in the U.S. we generally find this shocking, as we keep these animals as pets. Locals may have different customs and different ideas about what is polite and what is rude, which can reinforce our feelings of being disoriented. For instance, in some cultures it'w considered polite to eat all of the food on your plate, while in other places this might signal to the host he or she didn't feed you enough.

Not everyone experiences culture shock when traveling to a new place. While some of us experience culture shock as soon as we arrive, for others, it can take time to set in. For some of us, culture shock will pass quickly, but for some, these feelings can linger. If you do feel anxious or homesick in a new place, there are some ways you can cope.

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