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Office of International Programs

Cultural Adjustment

What is Culture Shock?
"Culture Shock" is the term used to describe the process of adjustment for a person moving to a new culture and facing a sudden change of environment, language, academic/social setting, food, and climate.

Culture as an Iceberg
To understand cultural differences, it helps to view "culture" as an iceberg. Most of an iceberg is invisible, below the water level. Only a small part can be seen. Only a small part of "culture" is open to view. We can see how people act and we can hear what they say. We may understand or misunderstand what we see and hear, but we can see and hear it. But what people do and say is based on assumptions and values that are invisible, below the level of the water. The behavior is based on the assumptions and values, just as the tip of the iceberg is based on the larger part of the iceberg below the tip.

The culture of a group of people is influenced by their environment and history. It is taught from one generation to the next, as adults instill values and mold our behavior from the time we are babies. We learn not only how to do things such as use utensils or chopsticks, but also the difference between "right" and "wrong," "beautiful" and "ugly," "valuable" or "superfluous." These habits, beliefs and expectations are so embedded into our daily lives that we do not become aware of them until we encounter another culture whose ideas and ways of doing things differ from our own. The better you are able to understand and articulate your own values, the more you will be able to observe and understand the values of your host country without criticizing or judging them.

Coping with Culture Shock
Getting over culture shock and adjusting to your host culture depends mainly on you. You may get help in identifying why you are unhappy, withdrawn, or donít feel well, but it is you who must take positive steps to help yourself feel better. The sooner you take steps to counteract culture shock, the better off you will be.

Above all, you should remember that culture shock is a normal part of the adjustment process. You will have some of the symptoms, and some of your reactions will be emotional and not very rational. You must be patient with yourself.