The encounter with the conquerors with steel and horses shocked the Aztecs, so they confused the Europeans with prophets from the east.
Traveler from Australia visiting a small farm in Sierra Leone.

Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one's own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life.[1] One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of four distinct phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation.

Common problems include: information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), boredom (job dependency), ethnicity, race, skin color, response ability (cultural skill set).[2] There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, as individuals in any society are personally affected by cultural contrasts differently.[3]

Culture shock is experienced by students who participate in study abroad programs. Research considering the study abroad experiences states that in-country support for students may assist them in overcoming the challenges and phases of culture shock. As stated in a study by Young et al., the distress experienced by culture shock has long-lasting effects therefore, universities with well-rounded programs that support students throughout the study abroad program, including preparation and post-program assistance, can alleviate challenges posed by culture shock, allow for global development and assist with the transition back into the home culture.[4]

Oberg's four phases model

According to acculturation model, people will initially have (1) a honeymoon period, followed by (2) a transition period, that is, cultural shock. Over time people will begin to (3) adapt (the dotted line depicted some people hated by new cultures instead[clarification needed]), before in some cases (4) returning to their own places and re-adapting to the old culture.

Kalervo Oberg first proposed his model of cultural adjustment in a talk to the Women's Club of Rio de Janeiro in 1954.[5][6][self-published source][7]


During this period, the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new food, the pace of life, and the locals' habits. During the first few weeks, most people are fascinated by the new culture. They associate with nationals who speak their language, and who are polite to the foreigners. Like most honeymoon periods, this stage eventually ends.[8]


After some time (usually around three months, depending on the individual), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. Excitement may eventually give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger as one continues to experience unfavorable events that may be perceived as strange and offensive to one's cultural attitude. Language barriers, stark differences in public hygiene, traffic safety, food accessibility and quality may heighten the sense of disconnection from the surroundings.[9]

While being transferred into a different environment puts special pressure on communication skills, there are practical difficulties to overcome, such as circadian rhythm disruption that often leads to insomnia and daylight drowsiness; adaptation of gut flora to different bacteria levels and concentrations in food and water; difficulty in seeking treatment for illness, as medicines may have different names from the native country's and the same active ingredients might be hard to recognize.

Still, the most important change in the period is communication: People adjusting to a new culture often feel lonely and homesick because they are not yet used to the new environment and meet people with whom they are not familiar every day. The language barrier may become a major obstacle in creating new relationships: special attention must be paid to one's and others' culture-specific body language signs, linguistic faux pas, conversation tone, linguistic nuances and customs, and false friends.

In the case of students studying abroad, some develop additional symptoms of loneliness that ultimately affect their lifestyles as a whole. Due to the strain of living in a different country without parental support, international students often feel anxious and feel more pressure while adjusting to new cultures—even more so when the cultural distances are wide, as patterns of logic and speech are different and a special emphasis is put on rhetoric.


Again, after some time (usually 6 to 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal". One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture's ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced.[10]


In the mastery stage individuals are able to participate fully and comfortably in the host culture. Mastery does not mean total conversion; people often keep many traits from their earlier culture, such as accents and languages. It is often referred to as the bicultural stage.


Gary R. Weaver wrote that culture shock has "three basic causal explanations": loss of familiar cues, the breakdown of interpersonal communications, and an identity crisis.[11] Peter S. Adler emphasized the psychological causes.[12] Tema Milstein wrote that it can have positive effects.[13]

Reverse culture shock

Reverse culture shock (also known as "re-entry shock" or "own culture shock"[14]) may take place—returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above.[15][16] These are results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture.[17] The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock. This phenomenon, the reactions that members of the re-entered culture exhibit toward the re-entrant, and the inevitability of the two are encapsulated in the following saying, also the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe: You Can't Go Home Again.

Reverse culture shock is generally made up of two parts: idealization and expectations. When an extended period of time is spent abroad we focus on the good from our past, cut out the bad, and create an idealized version of the past. Secondly, once removed from our familiar setting and placed in a foreign one we incorrectly assume that our previous world has not changed. We expect things to remain exactly the same as when we left them. The realization that life back home is now different, that the world has continued without us, and the process of readjusting to these new conditions as well as actualizing our new perceptions about the world with our old way of living causes discomfort and psychological anguish.[18][self-published source?]


There are three basic outcomes of the adjustment phase:[19]

Culture shock has many different effects, time spans, and degrees of severity.[22] Many people are hampered by its presence and do not recognize why they are bothered.[23]

There is evidence to suggest that the psychological influence of culture shock might also have physiological implications. For example, the psycho-social stress experienced during these circumstances is correlated with an early onset of puberty.[24]

Transition shock

A local woman does a double-take at a foreigner during the evening rush hour in Japan

Culture shock is a subcategory of a more universal construct called transition shock. Transition shock is a state of loss and disorientation predicated by a change in one's familiar environment that requires adjustment. There are many symptoms of transition shock, including:[25]

See also


  1. ^ Macionis, John, and Linda Gerber. "Chapter 3 - Culture." Sociology. 7th edition ed. Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada Inc., 2010. 54. Print.
  2. ^ Pedersen, P. (1995). The Five Stages of Culture Shock: Critical Incidents Around the World. Contributions in Psychology, no. 25. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-03073-4. ISSN 0736-2714. LCCN 93-49711.
  3. ^ Barna, LaRay M. (1976), How Culture Shock Affects Communication, ERIC ED184909 NLA 5380387
  4. ^ Young, Jennifer T.; Natrajan-Tyagi, Rajeswari; Platt, Jason J. (2014). "Identity in Flux: Negotiating Identity While Studying Abroad". Journal of Experiential Education. 38 (2): 175–188. doi:10.1177/1053825914531920. ISSN 1053-8259. S2CID 145667333.
  5. ^ Four Common Stages of Cultural Adjustment (PDF) (Factsheet), n.d., archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-30
  6. ^ Oberg, Kalervo (1954), Culture Shock, CiteSeerX Presented to the Women's Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3 August 1954.
  7. ^ Oberg, Kalervo (1960). "Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments". Practical Anthropology. os-7 (4). SAGE Publications: 177–182. doi:10.1177/009182966000700405. ISSN 0032-633X. S2CID 140936758.
  8. ^ Oberg, Kalervo. "Culture Shock and the problem of Adjustment to the new cultural environments". World Wide Classroom Consortium for International Education & Multicultural studies. 29 Sept 2009.
  9. ^ Mavrides, Gregory PhD "Culture Shock and Clinical Depression". Foreign Teachers Guide to Living and Working in China. Middle Kingdom Life, 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
  10. ^ Sarah (25 May 2016). "Adjust To New Cultures Like A Pro". Archived from the original on 4 October 2017. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  11. ^ Weaver, G.R. (1994). "Understanding and coping with cross-cultural adjustment stress". In Weaver, G.R. (ed.). Culture, Communication, and Conflict: Readings in Intercultural Relations. Needham Heights, MA: Ginn Press. pp. 169–189. ISBN 978-0-536-58482-3.
  12. ^ Adler, P.S. (1975). "The Transitional Experience: an Alternative View of Culture Shock". Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 15 (4). SAGE Publications: 13–23. doi:10.1177/002216787501500403. ISSN 0022-1678. S2CID 142937260.
  13. ^ Milstein, Tema (2005). "Transformation abroad: Sojourning and the perceived enhancement of self-efficacy". International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 29 (2). Elsevier BV: 217–238. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2005.05.005. ISSN 0147-1767.
  14. ^ Woesler, M. (2006). A New Model of Cross Cultural Communication: Critically Reviewing, Combining and Further Developing the Basic Models of Permutter, Yoshikawa, Hall, Hofstede, Thomas, Hallpike, and the Social Constructivism. Comparative cultural science. Vol. 1. Bochum/Berlin: European University Press. ISBN 978-3-89966-188-0. OCLC 180723503.
  15. ^ Clarke, Laura (6 November 2016). "How expats cope with losing their identity". BBC Capital. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  16. ^ Garone, Elizabeth (3 November 2014). "Expat culture shock boomerangs in the office". BBC Capital. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  17. ^ Huff, Jennifer L. (2001). "Parental attachment, reverse culture shock, perceived social support, and college adjustment of missionary children". Journal of Psychology & Theology. 9 (3): 246–264. doi:10.1177/009164710102900307. S2CID 142635674.
  18. ^ Martin, Hank. "Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock". Breaking Trail Online. Archived from the original on 2016-02-24.
  19. ^ Winkelman, Michael (1994). "Cultural Shock and Adaptation". Journal of Counseling & Development. 73 (2): 121–126. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1994.tb01723.x.
  20. ^ a b c "Culture Shock". Archived from the original on 2019-08-08. Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  21. ^ Winant, Howard (2001). The World Is A Ghetto. New York, NY: Basic Books. p. 258. ISBN 0-465-04341-0.
  22. ^ Christofi, Victoria; Thompson, Charles L. (2007). "You Cannot Go Home Again: A Phenomenological Investigation of Returning to the Sojourn Country After Studying Abroad" (PDF). Journal of Counseling & Development. 85 (1). Wiley: 53–63. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2007.tb00444.x. ISSN 0748-9633.[dead link]
  23. ^ Christofi, Victoria; Thompson, Charles L. (January 2007). "You Cannot Go Home Again: A Phenomenological Investigation of Returning to the Sojourn Country After Studying Abroad". Journal of Counseling & Development. 85 (1): 53–63. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2007.tb00444.x.
  24. ^ Houghton, Lauren C.; Troisi, Rebecca; Sommer, Marni; Katki, Hormuzd A.; Booth, Mark; Choudhury, Osul A.; Hampshire, Kate R. (2020). ""I'm not a freshi": Culture shock, puberty and growing up as British-Bangladeshi girls". Social Science & Medicine. 258: 113058. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113058. ISSN 1873-5347. PMC 7369632. PMID 32504913.
  25. ^ CESA. "Dealing with culture shock". Management Entity: Office of International Research, Education, and Development. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 29 September 2009.