[Safety and Security
We have all heard the
term, but what does it mean? One definition is:
A period of adjustment to new geographical,
personal and / or socioeconomic circumstances that differ from
one’s pre-existing and routine norms.
All will go through a period of
adjustment but the degree of adjustment will vary person to person.
It is important to recognize the symptoms. It can be characterized
by a series of stages - an emotional curve, if you will. These
stages may take place over the course of several months, or there
may even be days where one cycles through the high's and low's
associated with it.
of Culture Shock
Culture shock may arise from any of the
Communication challenges - In many cases you
will be in countries where English is not the native tongue. This
may prove quite challenging and you will have to learn to speak in
the simplest of English sentences, often repeating yourself. Have
patience. It will take time to communicate ideas. Be clear. Repeat
statements and questions. Clarify frequently and probe with
questions to make sure both parties in the conversation understand
what is required of them. And try to learn the rudiments of the
host country's language; even if you are not fluent, it does show
an effort to communicate and this will help bridge the gap
considerably. A solid foundation is better than no foundation on
which to build an understanding of a foreign language.
Gender Relationships - Wherever you travel,
expect differences in gender relations. In some cultures, men may
more aggressively seek the affections of the opposite sex than you
are used too. In some cultures, women are more often the pursuers.
To you this may seem harassing but in that culture it is the status
quo. North American women are perceived as “liberated”
and sometimes friendliness can be misinterpreted. Gender relations
are evidenced through body language, eye contact, standing and
sitting positions, clothing, etc. It is best pay careful attention
to the details of gender relationships in the countries to which
you are travelling.
Religious sensitivities and local values -
religious and local values may be vastly different in the
destination countries. It is safest not to talk about religion and
politics and to be aware of the various religions and manners of
dress of spiritual services.
Access to services - the services that you are
used to accessing at your convenience (banks, stores, restaurants,
etc.) may all operate quite differently internationally. Be
prepared to have to change your routine and be flexible when and
where services - as you are used to them - do and do not
Characteristics of Culture Shock
anger, discomfort, confusion, frustration or
irritability and loss of a sense of humour;
withdrawal, spending excessive amounts of time
alone, spending time only with Canadians or other foreigners and
avoiding contact with locals;
negative feelings about the people and culture
of the host country;
compulsive eating and drinking or a need for
excessive amounts of sleep; and
boredom, fatigue and an inability to
concentrate or work effectively.
International travel is often likened to an
emotional roller-coaster – there are extreme highs when
setting foot on foreign soil, seeing vastly different buildings,
landscapes, people and cultures. But there can be equally dramatic
lows when missing family and friends back home, having difficulty
communicating or lacking the creature comforts that were part of
your daily life back home. The diagram above plots a typical
experience of mood fluctuations over time.
This curve, however, does not describe everyone's experience, and
some people may face fluctuations in mood daily, or face several
peaks and valleys throughout the duration of their experience. The
important thing is to a) recognize that your mood may fluctuate
greatly and b) seek supports and appropriate outlets when it
Essentially, culture shock arises from our
difficulty in understanding our new context from the perspective of
our North American lives. We have grown up in a culture where each
action, gesture, word or phrase has been defined and shaped by our
environment; the place where we learned to survive and thrive. By
coming to this new environment, those time-tested ways of
communicating and living are no longer as relevant. We must relearn
a social and cultural competence that took years to foster in a
relatively short amount of time. This friction contributes to and
defines our experience of culture shock.
What you can do
Finding ways to deal with culture shock is
Keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences, making sure
to write extensively in your first few weeks while all the
experiences are fresh and new (you will be less inclined to write
when the new experiences become part of your day-to-day life and
hence, less novel). A more modern adaptation of the travelogue
would be via blogging our creating audiologues. Most digital
cameras have the ability to record voice memos, which can be quite
convenient and interesting when the time or conditions are not
conducive the physically writing.
Keep items that you can later scrapbook (ticket stubs,
pictures, etc.) that will remind you of elements of your
When you physically cannot capture a moment, take time to make
“mental movies”. Sit and stare for several minutes, or
even hours at a time, breathing deeply and take notes of elements
of your surroundings.
- Speak with your classmates – these experiences are (for
the most part) new to them as well. Share your thoughts and ideas
about the experience with them.
- Take mementoes of home - a small photo album; movies / photos
of home loaded onto your iPod, etc.
- Develop a routine in your host country
- Eat well and exercise
- travel, explore the host country
Sources and Additional Reading:
Coping with Culture Shock, voyage.gc.ca
culture shock” by: Susan Ernenwein and Alice Hoover
and Culture Shock.” - studentsabroad.com