Culture shock is like being lost in translation
Culture shock is a term coined by anthropologist Kalervo Oberg to describe a state of anxiety and frustration resulting from the immersion in a culture distinctly different from one's own. The difficulty to adjust to a new culture is caused by the inability to understand, interpret, or translate new patterns of cultural behavior, symbols, and expressions present in the new social setting.The loss of references, the absence of familiar cues and symbols can lead to identity conflict, disorientation, cultural misunderstandings, interpersonal conflict, and feelings of powerlessness. Culture shock is more intense the more the values, beliefs, customs and behaviors of the new culture differ or are perceived as different from one's own. Ignorance or lack of familiarity with foreign contexts, unrealistic expectations or strong identification or affiliation with one's own culture can make the process of adaptation to the new culture more difficult. Other aspects that influence how a person is affected by culture shock and how fast he or she can overcome it, include personal attitudes and traits and social, interpersonal, and communication skills. [1] [2]

The stages of Culture Shock

Honeymoon Phase
The honeymoon phase coincides with the arrival in a new country and the first period of contact with a new culture, this phase is usually brief, it may last few days or weeks. During the honeymoon phase, the traveler is fascinated with the sights, sounds, and tastes of the new culture. Things are seen as new, different, and interesting and the whole experience is lived as an exhilarating event, often accompanied by a sense of unreality. In this phase similarities between cultures stand out, differences are minimized and romanticized and negative events are ignored.

Crisis Phase
In the crisis phase the sojourner's negative perception of the host culture and its differences is enhanced. The crisis arises as a result of puzzling encounters and interactions. The traveler begins to experience real and seemingly unresolvable problems. Difficulty in managing communication and common daily activities such as shopping or transportation, contribute to feelings of frustration, hostility, stress, and anxiety. Consequently, the individual tends to alienate and withdraw from the host culture.This phase varies in duration, the length of this period is determined by one's ability and motivation to start integrating into the host culture.

Recovery Phase
During the recovery phase, the visitor learns how to function in the new culture and be independent. Confidence is slowly restored and competency increases as a result of new learned social behaviors. In this way the individual starts to acquire and assimilate culturally relevant and appropriate ways to interact and communicate. He or she develops appropriate problem solving skills and conflict resolution mechanisms. As a result of increased confidence and familiarity with the host environment, cultural perception of the foreign culture also starts to change

Adjustment Phase
During this phase the individual starts to adapt to the new culture, embrace its differences and accept what it has to offer.This phase is marked by low anxiety and the increased ability of the traveler to interact successfully with members of the host culture and and build social relationships. This phase also brings a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and personal growth for having overcome culture shock. [3] [4]


Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock takes place when reentering one's own culture after having lived abroad for a period of time. Reverse culture shock follows the same phases as cultural shock and similar symptoms. Reverse culture shock occurs because the traveler's changed perception of aspects of the home culture, the system that was once perceived as natural is now object of critical analysis and comparison with the host culture. During the honeymoon phase the individual is usually happy to be home and enthusiastic to reconnect with family and friends and re-experience the domestic environment. When normal life resumes it is usually accompanied by nostalgia for the time abroad this is a characteristic of the reentry crisis phase. Eventually the reentry recovery phase begins when the traveler starts to reconcile and accept differences between the two cultures. Aspects of life abroad and newly acquired insights are integrated in the domestic daily life and individuals are able to appreciate positive aspects of the home culture, while putting into perspective the negative ones. Finally, with the adjustment phase, re-entrees begin to feel at home again and begin to function normally in social settings and interactions. [5]


  1. Feeling very angry over minor inconveniencesexternal image CultureCostaRica.GIF
  2. Irritability
  3. Withdrawal from people who are different from you
  4. Extreme homesickness
  5. Sudden intense feeling of loyalty to own culture
  6. Overeating or loss of appetite
  7. Boredom
  8. A need for excessive sleep
  9. Headaches
  10. Upset stomach
  11. Small pains really hurt
  12. Depression
  13. Loss of ability to work or study effectively
  14. Unexplainable crying
  15. Marital or relationship stress
  16. Exaggerated cleanliness
  17. Feeling sick much of the time

It is not necessary to have every symptom on the list in order to have culture shock. It is possible that only a few may apply to you. These symptoms may also appear at any given time. However, those such as headache and upset stomach should be checked by a physician before you decide it’s only culture shock[6]


  1. ^ Pitts, Margaret Jane. (2010). Culture Shock. Encyclopedia of Identity. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from
  2. ^ Zaykowski, Heather. (2008). Culture Shock. Encyclopedia of Social Problems. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from
  3. ^ Pitts, Margaret Jane. (2010). Culture Shock. Encyclopedia of Identity. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from
  4. ^
  5. ^ Pitts, Margaret Jane. (2010). Culture Shock. Encyclopedia of Identity. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from
  6. ^