Culture Shock

Most people have heard the term “culture shock,” but what exactly does it mean? Many people cross cultures for work, education, or family reasons. When we move to a new cultural environment, it’s not just differences in food and language that cause difficulties.

At some point, everyone will feel frustrated trying to navigate the “hidden” aspects of the host culture, such as unspoken social rules, family patterns, communication styles, and organization structures.

It’s very common for people to experience culture shock at this point. Culture shock is a process and a group of symptoms that many people adjusting to a new culture will experience. Depending on the person, the process of culture shock can be fast or slow, and the symptoms can be severe or light.

Culture shock has four stages. The first stage is called the Honeymoon Stage, and for a good reason. When we move across cultures, it can feel just like our honeymoon. Everything we encounter is new and exciting, and we want to experience as many new things as possible.

As the honeymoon feeling fades, the Distress Stage begins. Differences between the home and host cultures become more apparent and problematic, and day-to-day stressors begin building up. Common symptoms include difficulty concentrating, sleep and appetite changes, relationship conflicts, homesickness, boredom, compulsive eating and drinking, and irritability towards the host culture.

With time, though, these core symptoms of culture shock with improve. Your cultural skills will increase, and you will gradually become more familiar in the foreign environment. This means that you are entering the final two stages, Autonomy and Independence. In these stages, you have a clearer understanding what you like and don’t like about your host culture, and you can have more acceptance and patience with the parts you don’t like.

If you are having difficulty adjusting, remember you can ask for help! The Center’s counselors have experience working on a wide range of issues, and cultural adjustment is one of the most common issues we work with. Call the Center today if you have questions about how we can help!

Born in Taipei and raised bilingually in the United States, Jane W. Wang is a cross-cultural consultant at the Community Services Center and an instructor of Communication and Multiculturalism at Shih-Hsin University in Taipei. She works with expatriate leaders, teams, and families to deepen understanding of Taiwan’s culture for more effective interactions and a successful stay overseas. For more on the Center’s cross-cultural programs, please see: