Culture Shock is defined by Google as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.”
Part of our mission at Connect Global is to lead teams into “unfamiliar cultures”. Culture Shock is not a new concept, and it is something we are forced to manage on every single trip.
Here are a few observations we have made concerning traveling and dealing with Culture Shock.
1. Culture Shock happens on every trip.
Culture Shock is a part of what we do. We lead teams to mostly, developing, international, distant locales. With that in mind, it may be easy to understand why we experience culture shock on every trip . It is a constant effect of the trips we lead because we are far from home, outside of major cities, and without many of the “commercial cues” we are accustom to in the context of home. Without a way to orient ourselves with “home” Culture Shock becomes an inevitable part of travel.
2. Culture Shock is Powerful.
This is an important realization to come to. No matter how well traveled you are, unfamiliar cues, in unfamiliar territory — or somewhat familiar territory — can be frustrating, even damaging if encountered in a way we are not expecting. See, the thing about culture shock is that it is, well, shocking. We can’t always predict when or how it will affect us. When it does strike it can be quite overwhelming.
3. Culture Shock is Manageable.
With practice you will be able to manage Culture Shock. Learning what signs to look for — frustration with language barriers or lack of patience with fellow travelers for instance — is part of the sustained management of Culture Shock. As we learn to expect it and learn what it looks like in ourselves and in others, we become able to manage it. It does not have to be a trip ender. Managed well, It can lead us to learn more about our new culture by embracing the very differences that triggered Culture Shock in the first place.
4. Culture Shock is Unique to the one experiencing it.
Everyone experiences Culture Shock differently.No one can define what Culture Shock looks like for another with exact precision. There is a baseline for different levels of Culture Shock, but not everyone experiences it the same, therefore, it can not be “remedied” in the same fashion for everyone. It is important to remember this so that you do not shut down or retreat further into your shocked state. Each of us will engage different “Coping Mechanisms” when faced with Culture Shock and that is perfectly fine. You will get through it. You will be fine.
5. Culture Shock is Unifying.
Culture shock has a funny way of bringing people together. On many of the trips we have taken, we have experienced a very strong bond with our fellow travelers. This closeness is, in large part, due to the shared experience of culture shock. While each team member experiences Culture Shock to varying degrees, or at different times, it becomes a unifying catalyst because we are each ready to help our comrades through the tunnel of Culture Shock — together. It’s a “I’ve been there..” kind of feeling we all share resulting in a “remember the time…” sigh of relief. Shared “tragedy” tends to unify people regardless of background or context.
As you immerse yourself in different cultures whether through travels or new experiences we hope this post will help you understand and manage Culture Shock like a pro. Remember, This post is not everything there is to know about Culture Shock, it is simply meant to represent what we have learned about it. As you wade the waters of Culture Shock we hope you will share with us your observations, so we can continue to help our teams process through it.