People often think the feelings arising in encounters with strange foods or customs constitute "culture shock." In reality, those brief moments of discomfort are not what anthropologists mean by culture shock. Instead, anthropologists and psychologists use "culture shock" to label the confusion, doubt, and nervousness common to people who have recently begun living cross-culturally and who are also experiencing one or more of the following:
Real culture shock is thus more deep-seated than the momentary discomfort felt when confronting strange things to eat or unfamiliar social norms. What anthropologists call culture shock grows out of a long period of coping with unfamiliar ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, and valuing things. Indeed, because people experience culture shock symptoms over a period of time rather than in one isolated event, some anthropologists say "cycle of adjustment" rather than "culture shock."
Culture shock symptoms will be quite evident in some people and less so in others. Nonetheless, the cycle of adjustment (or culture shock) -- honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance -- is inevitable. Though culture shock is not a medical condition, the psychological disorientation, withdrawal, and excessive sleeping can be compared to organisms going into physical shock after a trauma.
Culture shock symptoms may come and go over a period of time. Describing her experiences in Senegal, missionary Linda Louw said, "I thought culture shock was something that you got through, and it was done, but it just keeps coming."
The sense of unease and heightened irritability common to in the frustration stage can be triggered by small things. The adjustment stage usually does not kick in until a person has become familiar with and increasingly comfortable in a new culture.
Fortunately, the effects of culture shock can be somewhat mitigated. Here are half a dozen coping suggestions:
This mini-essay on a critical issue in world missions outreach is an article in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine.
This animated diagram illustrates two paths people take during the four phases of long-term cross-cultural encounters. The term "culture shock" was coined by Kalvero Oberg in 1954. It's a good label for the psychological experience of adults during the time of cultural adjustment that accompanies a period of cultural socialization or acculturation (which is different from the enculturation process experienced by children). The cultural adjustment period usually includes some disorientation brought on by such things as being confused as to where the cultural boundaries are.
The confusion and anxiety brought on by culture stress or shock may cause us to think, do or say things that are contrary to God's purpose.
Diagram is used by permission from Duane Elmer's Cross-Cultural Connections (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002) and under the "fair use" provisions for educational purposes of copyright laws.
Symptoms of culture shock:
"One of the best defenses [against severe culture shock] is knowledge. . . Know what you are likely to experience" — Diana N., Nazarene Bible College student
How can we cope with the disorientation of adjusting to a new culture? Having information about culture shock is a first important step. Attempting to distance ourselves from an ethnocentric perspective will help. Then, to successfully cope, let's make sure our attitudes mirror those suggested in green and red in the top half of the diagram. As you work through cultural socialization, follow these tips on surviving situations where verbal and non-verbal cues and codes are unfamiliar to you:
Knowing how to survive culture shock or stress can be helpful to missionaries as well as foreign students who come to our country to study.
Can Holy Scripture help us with cross-cultural adjustment? Well, the book of Acts would be a good place to start. It has several examples of cultural adjustment or socialization. Paul, who grew up in modern-day Turkey and then was educated in Jerusalem, moved around the Mediterranean planting churches in different cultural contexts. To the Philippians, he wrote: "I learned to be content whatever the circumstances." (Philippians 4:11). As Paul coped with various cultural issues, he was also dogged by Jewish Christians from Israel who tried to force Gentile converts to become Jewish (in which case Christianity would have been a mono-cultural movement).
Another relevant Biblical event is the story of Ruth. Here's a young woman who left her home country and culture and moved to Israel and wound up ultimately being in the list of Jesus' ancestors!
Other Bible stories to ponder include:
Reverse culture shock and how to cope with it at home - AbbeyRoad programs
Reverse culture shock is what people often experience when returning to their home culture after living in another for a period of time. That can be a long process. A 60-year-old MK (Missionary Kid) wrote, "My parents took us to Brazil when I was seven. The work of adjusting back to the States seems never quite over."
|Moving from ethnocentric monoculturalism to joyfully embracing multi-culturalism is not done with one huge leap. It is a journey of small steps.
|Personal experiences with culture shock in Italy