culture shock - Socio1-2009

Babes-Balyoi University, Cluj-Napoca
Faculty of Sociology and Social Work,
Department: Social Marketing, First Year
- International students -
Laura Sopon
Adela Turoczi
Teacher / Supervisor:
Cristina Felea
- International students -
Nowadays we can see more and more students from other cities, countries or even
continents coming here, in Cluj, to study. This thing doesn’t happen only here. In all big
cities, at big universities students from all over the world go to study from 6 months – to
5 years (commonly mentioned parameters) depending on their interests. They may go
there with a scholarship or because that was the only place where the subject they wanted
to study was available;
Each individual, every one of us, was born and grew up in a certain cultural
environment. We are not the same; each country, each society has its personal culture.
What do we understand by culture? As Edward Tylor named it in 1871, Culture is “that
complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, custom, and any
other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. So, if students
decide to leave the society they belong to, for studying somewhere else, they have to be
aware of the cultural differences they are going to encounter there. Having known the
meaning of culture, now we can understand better what culture shock is.
Culture shock is described as “the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers
when coming to live in another country or a place different from the place of origin.
Often, the way that we lived before is not accepted as or considered as normal in the new
There are some questions asked: What are the definitive features of a successful
transition? Good relations with members of the host culture? Psychological comfort?
Competent work performance? Positive attitudes toward the transition? Identification
with host nationals? The answers to these questions depend a lot on each individual.
Various literature and researches dating from1960 to 1990 embed self-awareness and
self-esteem, mood states, health status, feelings of acceptance and satisfaction, the nature
and extent of interactions with hosts, the gaining of culturally appropriate behaviours,
perceptual maturity, communication capability, acculturative stress, and academic and
job performance².
So the main aspects culture shock refers to are the physical, psychical and
emotional ones.
Hammer (1992) mentioned that the literatures on students who study on the
international level mostly cover four wide subjects: their problems as sojourners, the
psychological reactions when coming across a new cultural background, their social
interactions and communication on their adjustment, and the culture learning progression.
Bochner initiated the functional model of friendship networks. He talks about
three types of social networks that foreign students usually belong to. First – the
connection with fellow compatriots which help them to keep close the values of their own
culture and also boost their self-confidence. So as Ward and Kennedy (1993) discovered
in their research – “greater co-national interaction is associated with stronger cultural
identity”. They are more likely to say that their best friends are from the same culture.
The second one refers to the relationship they have with the “host nationals” – it
facilitates the academic aims of the student. The culture learning advantages of host
national contact are clear. The greater the interaction between them the fewer academic
problems and social difficulties they have. Interacting with local students also improves
communication capability and makes easier adaptation to life away from home. The third
network consists of friendships with other non-compatriots foreign students – mostly
recreational role, but also a social support based on the fact that they are all foreign in
that country.
The students experience many difficulties travelling abroad, such as insufficient
linguistic and cultural skills, intolerance, discrimination, homesickness and loneliness.
Beside these, they face problems similar to those of local students – identity conflict,
academic challenges, and the stressors associated with transition to a new school or
university (Furnham, Bochner, 1986). The problems experienced by these students
fluctuate depending on the type of sojourning samples and their cultural origins and
There are various other factors beside the limited language skills that have an
impact on academic success and satisfaction of students. For example students from
individualist cultures are more likely to want to ‘stand out’ in class, to engage in debates,
ask and answer questions. The ones from collectivist cultures tend to ‘fit in’, they are
unwilling to draw attention to themselves, and are less likely to debate and question.
Some studies examined the impact of the pre-departure variables on the postarrival academic, psychological and sociocultural adaptation over time. Considerable
predictors of post-arrival adaptation problems are the depression, psychological
sensibility, anticipating more interpersonal problems, language ability and previous
cross-cultural experience.
When talking about ‘culture shock’, other researchers mentioned the four stages
of it:
The first one is called the honeymoon period – interesting name. During the first
few weeks most people are fascinated of the new culture. When the students are facing
the new places, new people (with their habits), new environment, everything seems great
– a new life experience. It is a new adventure; it is the time for observing, exploring and
discovering what they can. They associate with the nationals that speak their language
and are polite to the foreigners.
The second one is called the negotiation phase (or withdrawal). In this period
(after few weeks) become credible, visible and students feel frustrated. Because of
language barrier and other firm differences in type and quality of food, traffic safety,
public hygiene, the feeling that one is constantly being cheated or lied to, and many
others, one can seriously dislike the people and their culture. They can feel very
depressed, sad, and lonely, preoccupied with their health, likely to sleep too much or too
little, and also can feel vulnerable, powerless, unwillingness to interact with others. But
there are no exact symptoms attributed to culture shock as every person is affected
differently. Depending on the individual, this stage can last for up to three to six months
or it may carry on considerably longer for those who do not have the capacity and social
support required for properly adjustment.
The third stage is the adjustment one. In this phase (after 6-12 months) the
expatriate reaches to see and understand the both sides, so he now knows how the second
culture works and gets used to it. The individual begin to feel more comfortable and
confident because life seems to be more and more predictable and routine comes up. One
begins to know how to deal with the situations he encounters with and begin to accept the
culture as it is, with a positive attitude.
The fourth stage is the Integration (or Assimilation Stage), when the students
realize they feel like home. What seemed to bother and annoy them at the beginning now
it turns out being insignificant. In this phase it can be mentioned the acculturation,
because after one year or more of accommodation to the new culture, people acquire new
habits, behavior and various elements from it. It is often referred to as the biculturalism
The culture shock is something that occurs to most of the people who are leaving
from their culture to another one for at least 6 to 8 months. The question remained to be
asked now is: How to avoid culture shock? Culture shock could create a serious problem
for a new comer to a foreign place.
There is some psychological and social advice as well, such as:
The very last thing one should do is take a step backwards and get isolated from other
people, even though this is the most comfortable for the moment and the easiest thing
to do;
Not expecting to do things perfect the first time;
Humor is one of the best remedies for almost any difficult situation;
Maintaining contact with the ethnic group - this will give a feeling of belonging and
will reduce feelings of loneliness and alienation;
Learning the language and volunteering in community activities that allow practicing
the language that is being learned. This will help feeling less stress about language
and useful at the same time;
Allowing oneself to feel sad about the things that have left behind: family, friends,
home place etc;
If feeling stressed, look for help
Culture could be learned and adapted easily with an open mind while one prepares to
adjust the behavior to match the new culture in order to avoid the culture shock. If
one’s expectations are realistic from the beginning it is a lot easier to cope with the
new culture and the people belonging to it.
1. Kalervo Oberg, “CULTURE SHOCK”, 1954, [online] [cited 20/05/10]
Reference: DuBois, Cora, “Culture Shock”. This talk was present as part of a
panel discussion at the first Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of
International Education in Chicago, November 28, 1951.>
2. Furnham, A., Ward, C., Bochner, S. (2005), “Sojourners: International students”
chapter in The Psychology of Culture Shock, (pp. 142-167), Taylor & Francis eLibrary.
3. Mavrides, Gregory PhD “Culture Shock and Clinical Depression.” Foreign
Teachers Guide to Living and Working in China. Middle Kingdom Life, 2009.
[online] [cited 31/05/2010]. <>
4. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, Culture Shock article,
7. Amanda Mitchener, presentation on Culture Shock (2007)
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