What Is Culture Shock?iStockphoto
Gathering information on your host country can minimize the effects of culture shock.
So, what is culture shock? Culture shock is a phenomenon that all types of expats experience, no matter if they work abroad for the first time or if they are veterans in the field of expat assignments. Often, it is the deeper cultural differences in mindset, customs and interpersonal interaction that trigger this phenomenon and turn cultural transition into a struggle.
What is Culture Shock? – The Emotional Rollercoaster
Whereas every expat will experience some form of culture shock, not everyone goes through all the well-known stages. While some skip stages or rush through them, others may experience certain stages of cultural transition more than once. Culture shock is a rather nerve-wrecking phenomenon, causing feelings of anxiety and alienation. However, it’s essential to recognize it as a part of the transition process. A willingness to work through it is the first step towards integration.
Those who can’t answer the question, “what is culture shock?” and refuse to face it often fail to overcome it. This may result in great disillusionment. For them, the only logical solution is returning back home before the end of their assignment. In fact, the expatriate failure rate is extremely high on all corporate levels. Between 16% and 40% of expats cannot overcome culture shock and return home early. The majority of these cases (i.e. 70%) happen among those on assignments in developing countries.
The first step towards overcoming this inevitable phenomenon is to ask yourself “what is culture shock?” and try to understand it. Most experts define it as a curve-like process while many people who have experienced it first-hand say that it manifests itself in a series of waves. Positive and negative feelings often take turns and make expats feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster ride.ma
What is Culture Shock? – Minimizing the Effects
Katharina (44) works as a consultant for different global companies. She supports HR departments in sending employees abroad and helps them ensure that expat assignments are successful. “Culture shock is not a myth, but a predictable phenomenon. Anybody who spends more than just a vacation abroad has to go through it”, she says.
The intensity with which people experience culture shock depends on a lot of factors. “Those who receive the least support on a professional and personal basis are usually hit the hardest. Expat spouses in particular often feel isolated and resentful when they experience life in a new cultural environment.”
Katharina knows that, to avoid failed expat assignments and early repatriation, HR departments must support expats and expat spouses from the very beginning. Those who organize their move abroad entirely on their own can also take measures to minimize the negative effects of culture shock.
Some employees receive little or no support from the HR department of their company. They can, however, try to soften the blow. If expats learn about the culture and people of their host country in advance, they are less shocked by obvious differences in social customs, religion, language or food.
What is Culture Shock? – A Step towards Adjustment
At the end of the day, culture shock, while unpleasant, is a necessary step towards integration. The key to a successful expat assignment is to expect it, to plan for it and then to roll up one’s sleeves and get through it.
So after attempting a short definition of this phenomenon, we will now identify the various stages of culture shock. We shall thus answer the question “what is culture shock” by looking at the ways it manifests.