Culture Shock Continuum

Culture “Surprise”

Usually occurs early in the stay when one begins to be aware of superficial, novel, and startling differences. Often characterizes the “initial euphoria” phase of adjustment.

Culture “Stress”

A mild response to stimulus overload often seen in sojourners. One becomes tired and somewhat withdrawn. Annoyance builds as daily reality becomes more difficult.

Culture “Irritation”

One reacts especially strongly to a few observable behaviors in the culture that are “hot button items.” These may involve things like hygiene, treatment of animals, or other overt behaviors to which one has a strong negative response.

Culture “Fatigue”

A fairly short-term response to stimulus overload, to trying to deal with lots of new cultural information all at once. Stress and irritation intensify. Ability to function declines. Often accompanied by “language fatigue.”

Culture “Shock”

Time of onset is variable. Usually occurs within a few months of entering a new culture. Most intense response on the continuum. Cumulative and attributable to many small things that have happened over time. Persistent frustration builds. Can lead to open expressions of anger or to withdrawal. When you ask yourself these kinds of questions, you are probably experiencing culture shock: What have I gotten myself into? What am I doing here? What is the matter with these people? Why can’t they do it the right way?

Recognize culture shock as a real phenomenon and identify how it is manifesting itself for you. Remind yourself that it signals that you are grappling with and learning about your host culture, which was your goal for coming. Know that things will get better. Be active in working your way through culture shock.